Release:11th February 2019
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
In this new take on the tragic love story, he plays seasoned musician Jackson Maine, who discovers-and falls in love with-struggling artist Ally (Gaga). She has just about given up on her dream to make it big as a singer… until Jack coaxes her into the spotlight. But even as Ally’s career takes off, the personal side of their relationship is breaking down, as Jack fights an ongoing battle with his own internal demons.
On paper, A Star Is Born should have been a car crash of cinematic hubris. It’s seemingly the 86th re-telling of a story that has already been done perfectly. It stars a singer whose greatest demonstration of acting so far has been American Horror Story and a cameo in Muppets Most Wanted. The film spent years in development hell and was finally realised by Bradley Cooper; a man better known for voicing racoons and who does his best work in supporting roles. Yet here we are, tears in our eyes, duped by every trick in the book; our heartstrings thoroughly pulled. Willing to offer this heartfelt little story a deserving round of applause.
The true power of A Star Is Born never really signposts itself. It is a soup of emotions and little moments. There are a few scenes designed for the Oscar showreel. Scenes like a bathroom argument (filled with vulnerability and pain), a rehab centre breakdown (filled with vulnerability and pain), and closing song, which Gaga sang for real, moments after losing her friend to cancer (filled with vulnerability and pain). But for the most part, A Star Is Born yo-yos from quiet mumbling one-to-ones, to sweeping live performances. The revelation, as such, is that Gaga is perfection in the role of Ally! Stick a moustache on her, beef up her teeth to horse-like proportions, give her a yellow jacket, and A Star Is Born is the film that Bohemian Rhapsody SHOULD have been.
Instead, where A Star Is Born builds your love for the character, Bo-Rhap had the legacy of a real life genius and a back catalogue of beloved songs to win audiences over. That is and must be the only reason why the latter has so easily dashed any chances of the former winning in this year’s award circuit. It is unfair though, because although songs such as Shallow, I’ll Never Love Again and Is That Alright are a different type of sound and quality to all the Beelzebubs and We Will Rock Yous of Freddy Mercury; they still make for some breathtaking moments of raw singing ability. Which is something that cannot be said for Bryan Singer’s superficial mess.
What helps A Star Is Born is also its surprising array of visual flourishes. Cooper hired Darren Aronofsky regular Matthew Libatique to lens the film for him; and the two seem to perfectly understand what the story requires to make it feel like fresh love, while maintaining a grungy realism (something Libatique has made a career from). A more direct example would be to say that, at times, A Star Is Born feels like an ethereal home movie from the archives of Kurt Cobain or Johnny Cash. As a director, Cooper also makes some brave choices involving long takes and prolonged shots of a single face; resulting in some wonderfully poetic sequences.
So, what’s wrong with it? Well it does all feel a little knowing. It is hard to put a finger on, but there is an overarching sense that Cooper is trying to prove himself, that Gaga is trying to validate her acting career, that the music is trying to Greatest Showman its way on to Magic FM (mission accomplished by the way!). But essentially here is a by-the-book fable about love and addiction. The true villain is the manager, love is the victim, money can’t buy you happiness, yada-yada. Yes, that is the story, so to speak, but i guess the biggest shame is that Cooper is not willing to test its boundaries a little. Must every serious musical story run the same gauntlet? Especially one that is fictional.
A Star Is Born was produced with a 2K intermediary, so the image never reaches it true potential on this 4K release. Its biggest strength visually is that the colour space takes a sizeable bump. Moments such as Ally’s first concert performance really pop thanks to Karen Murphy’s production design, while the pallet of earth tones look deep and worn, as the latter cleaner sequences sparkle. Then there is the soundtrack. Warners would be fools if a musical film doesn’t shine in the sound department, and this does not disappoint. Short of putting you at the venue, the soundscape here feels wholly authentic. You can hear every instrument, every fret noise, all in a 3D space that washes over you with a face melting warmth. The dialogue scenes are a little quiet in places, but that feeds in to atmosphere more than anything. The only issue of note, particularly with the 4K version, is that some of the film’s anamorphic lenses (particularly the widest angles) create a warped image that appears to roll or wobble during handheld movements. An example of this is the opening concert. At times the audience move like an ocean, creating an uneasy aesthetic. So those prone to sea sickness may want a bucket on standby. For the rest of us who just want to enjoy the movie, some tissues and a tub of ice cream will do.
Film Grade: A-
Confined to the blu-ray, we do not have any deleted scenes to speak of as such, but we do have some bonus music and some music videos. Which makes perfect sense. While the only other feature is a making of, that plays as part roundtable, part love-in and part behind the scenes doc. Fun takeaway; Lars Ulrich of Metallica fame functioned as ad-hoc assistant cameraman for the Glastonbury set.
Special Features Grade: C+
Not one, but two stars are born here. A singer turned actor and an actor turned director.