The first critical reactions to Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s contemporary remake of A Star Is Born scale the peaks of Oscar buzz.
The long-gestating fourth adaptation of the classic entertainment industry romance held its world premiere screening Friday at the Oscar-positioning Venice International Film Festival, where movie critics lauded Cooper’s filmmaking hand and performative chops as an aging crooner, though Gaga’s first lead role in a Hollywood production has also drawn significant praise.
“Gaga’s serious-actress transformation for her first major film role will undoubtedly lead the conversation, and she deserves praise for her restrained, human-scale performance as a singer whose real-girl vulnerability feels miles away from the glittery meat-dress delirium of her own stage persona,” EW’s Leah Greenblatt, who also praises Cooper’s camera for its “feverish intimacy,” writes. The Playlist‘s Jessica Kiang similarly praises Gaga, though she observes “the star that is truly born here is Cooper as a director.”
In the film, Cooper — making his directorial debut on the project — plays a fading country musician named Jackson Maine, whose personal demons prompt a dramatic downward spiral after he meets and falls for a struggling singer-songwriter, Ally (Gaga). However, Jackson’s vitality — and Ally’s burgeoning imprint on the entertainment world — takes off during their courtship, though his ongoing internal battle ultimately threatens to destroy the foundation of their relationship as well as his own creative ambitions.
“That’s the soapy tragic Star Is Born concept,” writes Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman. “But what the movie does is to take this fabled melodramatic romantic seesaw and turn it into something indelibly heartfelt and revealing. Cooper directed the movie himself, working from a script he co-wrote with Eric Roth and Will Fetters, and to say that he does a good job would be to understate his accomplishment. As a filmmaker, Bradley Cooper gets right onto the high wire, staging scenes that take their time and play out with a shaggy intimacy that’s shorn of the usual ‘beats.’ The new Star Is Born is a total emotional knockout, but it’s also a movie that gets you to believe, at every step, in the complicated rapture of the story it’s telling.”
The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw, awarding the film five out of five stars, calls the film “outrageously watchable and colossally enjoyable,” going on to herald its “dilithium crystals of pure melodrama” as well as the “ingenuous openness” of the chemistry between the film’s leads. With reference to the older iterations, Time‘s Stephanie Zacharek also feels “Cooper’s version proves there’s always a way to freshen up old material” and calls the film a “terrific melodrama for the modern age. “
In addition to starring in the film, Cooper (a four-time Oscar nominee) and Gaga (also previously nominated as a songwriter) worked together to write and record original songs (which Greenblatt calls “memorably, sturdily melodic”) for the film’s soundtrack with the latter’s frequent collaborators such as “Born This Way” producer DJ White Shadow and Joanne executive producer Mark Ronson, as well as musicians Jason Isbell, Lukas Nelson, Diane Warren, and Dave Cobb.
Though it did not bow as part of Venice’s prestigious competition lineup, A Star Is Born’s Venice screening still represents a vital step on the awards trail for a film looking to break into the Oscar conversation, as the festival has ignited the Academy Award runs of films like The Hurt Locker, Gravity, Birdman, Arrival, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and eight others since 2007 that have world premiered at the Italian event before going on to win or receive a Best Picture nomination.
A Star Is Born sings its way to theaters on Oct. 5. Read on for more reviews of the film from the 2018 Venice Film Festival.
Leah Greenblatt (EW)
“Gaga’s serious-actress transformation for her first major film role will undoubtedly lead the conversation, and she deserves praise for her restrained, human-scale performance as a singer whose real-girl vulnerability feels miles away from the glittery meat-dress delirium of her own stage persona. And the original songs (most of which Gaga and Cooper share full or partial credit for) are memorably, sturdily melodic —though not the conspicuously flat dance-pop Ally moves toward as her career swerves closer toward the mainstream.”
Owen Gleiberman (Variety)
“Cooper has made a jaggedly tender love story that is never over-the-top, an operatic movie that dares to be quiet. …. Gaga, in an ebullient and winningly direct performance, never lets her own star quality get in the way of the character. Or, rather, she lets us see that star quality is something that lives inside Ally but is still waiting to come out (the way it was in the young Streisand of Funny Girl).”
Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian)
“Cooper is arguably prettier than Lady Gaga, but she is the one who commands your attention: that sharp, quizzical, leonine, mesmeric face – an uningratiating face, very different from the wide-eyed openness of Streisand or Garland. (Weirdly, she rather more resembles Marta Heflin, playing the groupie-slash-interviewer who went to bed with Kristofferson in ’76.) Her songs are gorgeous and the ingenuous openness of her scenes with Jackson are wonderfully sympathetic. Meanwhile Cooper, whose screen persona can so often be bland and unchallenging, makes precisely this conservative tendency work for him in the role. He is so sad you want to hug him. Arguably, this film fudges some of Jackson’s dark side, by giving him partial deafness as well as alcoholism, but it is still a richly sympathetic spectacle.”
David Rooney (The Hollywood Reporter)
“There’s a lot to love in Bradley Cooper’s entertaining remake of A Star is Born, including his convincing portrayal of a hard-drinking country rocker in some electrifying concert scenes, and the captivating debut in a big-screen leading role of Lady Gaga as the singer-songwriter whose career he launches, only to watch it quickly eclipse his own. The first-time director’s grasp of pacing could be improved and the overlong movie can’t quite sustain the energy and charm of its sensational start. But this is a durable tale of romance, heady fame and crushing tragedy, retold for a new generation with heart and grit.”
Michael Nordine (IndieWire)
“So why watch A Star Is Born in 2018, when Cooper’s directorial debut is premiering in Venice as part of a world tour that’s clearly meant to crescendo on a certain stage in Hollywood next year? The answer, it turns out, is Gaga…. the pop star is resplendent as a diamond-in-the-rough singer whose booming voice and subtle expressions would make her predecessors proud. Credit to Cooper for delivering his best, most soulful performance while pulling double duty behind the camera, but it’s his co-star whose magnetism most draws you into their world — and keeps you there even when the film hits the occasional wrong note.”
Jessica Kiang (The Playlist)
“A Star Is Born may not be quite the greatest film ever made, as that face-meltingly hyperbolic leaked review insisted, but that hardly matters. It’s going to be a phenomenon, and it’s my happy duty to report that it’s also very good. It’s particularly good in its rousing, delightful, chemistry-laden first half that is launched like a rocket by the onstage footage of Cooper’s Jack Maine…. Unlike many similar semi-musical films, in which the tracks grind the storytelling to a halt, here the music, almost wholly originally composed for the film, does a fair bit of narrative heavy lifting from the beginning. Gently prophetic lyrics that are all about letting go of old things, longing for change when things are going well, and only really feeling like yourself when they’re going badly are complemented by Matthew Libatique‘s lovely, flare-y and immersive handheld concert sequences, that make Jack’s band look like hardworking ’70s folk-rockers and make Coachella feel like Woodstock.”
Stephanie Zacharek (Time)
“Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, playing out of competition here at the Venice Film Festival, is just on the right side of tasteful, which is to say it’s slightly on the wrong side: It could stand to be more nutso in its expression of grand human emotions and dismal human failures. But it works anyway: You come away feeling something for these people, flawed individuals who are trying to hold their cracked pieces of self together—or to mend the cracks of those they love.”
Alonso Duralde (The Wrap)
“Cooper and Lady Gaga are dynamite together; this is a story that lives and dies by the central relationship and the instant chemistry that must blossom between them, and these two have it in spades. The musical numbers take immediately catchy songs and present them in an electrifying way; I rate Garland’s performance of ‘The Man That Got Away’ as one of the all-time great musical performances on celluloid, so I mean it as high praise when I say that while none of the numbers in this version surpasses that moment, some of them come shockingly close.”