TIFF Review: ‘A STAR IS BORN’ – Cooper and Gaga elegantly blend art into this wildly conventional rhapsody

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James Cole Clay // Film Critic

A STAR IS BORN

Rated R, 135 minutes.
Director: Bradley Cooper
Cast: Lady GagaBradley CooperSam ElliottDave ChappelleAnthony RamosBonnie Somerville and Andrew Dice Clay

Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut comes from a special corner in classical Hollywood. Of all the diverse projects he could be circling, he chose to put his own spin on A STAR IS BORN. Cooper’s film marks the third iteration (previously done in 1954 and 1976), but it’s understandable why he did, because it’s an inherently cinematic piece of material with a melodramatic story arc for the ages.

Despite all of its praise going into Oscar season, the highly emotional trailer is where the film hits a fever pitch of emotion. Instead of elevating the familiar material, Cooper and screenwriters Eric Roth and Will Fetters give the audience easy moments to emote without asking too much in return. But with its plotting, it subverts all expectations.

Grizzled country star Jackson “Jack” Maine (Cooper) is seeing his old ways die hard, or never truly disappear, as he churns out gigs on the road to thousands of screaming fans. Disillusioned by his own lifestyle, Jack seeks forgiveness in pain killers and gin to curb an achy breaky heart and any ringing in his ear.

After stumbling into a drag show, Jack spots the stripped down Ally (Lady Gaga) singing Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose.” So, he naturally decides to help the young singer/actress find the fame she so deserves, while he sorts through his own struggles as an aging musician.

The film’s cinematography by Matthew Libatique makes the whole film pop. He uses vibrant colors to boost the appeal within the frame and enhance the film’s romanticism. It’s a heavy bit of subject matter to take on for Cooper, but as a visual artist, he and Libatique make the scenery their own.

Bradley Cooper stars as Jackson Maine, Lady Gaga stars as Ally in ‘A STAR IS BORN,’ a Warner Bros. release. Photo credit: Clay Enos.

A STAR IS BORN will always be known as Gaga’s coming out party as a serious actor. She commands every moment she’s on screen, while Cooper’s hand as a director relishes in the stripped down version of the famed popstar. Gaga owns every moment Ally receives in the spotlight.

Cooper’s best asset in his major film roles is his physicality. He brings Jack to life as a fully-realized character with a rich and believable history. His music is that of a rustic neo-country artist with grungy anthems and lonesome ballads. When it comes to the singing, it’s not a surprise that Lady Gaga is in a league of her own, which doesn’t hamper (or even overshadow) the assertive, yet humble personality of Ally. Singing next to Gaga is no easy feat, yet Cooper’s rough around the edges style compliments the aesthetic of the film nicely.

A STAR IS BORN is going to please audiences from start to finish with its take on fame, drug use and marriage. Although Cooper has emerged as a premiere director, there’s a bit of disappointment in the air, because the film never hits the emotional falsetto.

[Grade: B]

A STAR IS BORN premiered on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. The Toronto International Film Festival will have encore screenings on 9/8 (P&I screening only), 9/9, 9/10 and 9/13 (P&I screening only). Visit tiff.net for more details on the showtimes. A STAR IS BORN will release on Oct. 5, 2018 through Warner Bros.