'A Star Is Born': What the Critics Are Saying
How does Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut fare? Reviewers give their take.
The reviews for A Star is Born have arrived.
The musical movie stars Bradley Cooper as alcoholic rocker Jackson and Lady Gaga as struggling singer-songwriter Ally. The movie marks Cooper's feature film directorial debut.
Penned by Cooper, Eric Roth and Will Fetters, the remake centers on the showbiz love story, based on the original from 1937, about a rocker (Cooper) whose career is in decline while the female star (Gaga) he discovers catapults into stardom. The movie was unveiled at the Venice Film Festival before traveling to Toronto.
With all eyes on Cooper's directorial debut and Gaga's step into leading roles, there’s “a lot to love” about the film, according to David Rooney’s review for The Hollywood Reporter. Praising Cooper’s “natural charisma," Rooney writes that the actor gives a “convincing portrayal” of the alcoholic country rocker, so much so that it softens “the self-deconstructive edges” of his character.
The review also notes that Gaga “completely shed her pop persona” and instead embodies a “toughness and vulnerability” that her singer-songwriter character needs. It is this vulnerability that Rooney writes “spares” the film from “falling into the vanity-project trap of the last remake,” which features Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.
Though the closing scene proves that Gaga’s “skill as an actor” doesn’t equal the same standards as her “impeccable voice," Rooney writes that it is Cooper’s “fresh take” on the story that “finds plenty of mileage left in the well-trod showbiz saga.” Though his “grasp of pacing” could be improved, the film is a “durable tale of romance, heady fame and crushing tragedy” that is retold for a new generation with “heart and grit.”
Stephanie Zacharek of Time also praises Cooper and Gaga’s performances, writing that the audience will empathize with the leads who are “flawed individuals who are trying to hold their cracked pieces of self together — or to mend the cracks of those they love." Zacharek writes that Gaga is not much like those who portrayed her part in previous versions — Streisand, Janet Gaynor and Judy Garland — but the critic finds her “charismatic” and says she showcases vulnerability without hiding behind stage makeup, something Zacharek notes is like “discovering a new country.”
The review says that Cooper simply “fades into the corner at just the right moments,” allowing Gaga to take center stage. Zacharek also applauds Cooper’s venture into directing, writing that the actor’s version exemplifies that “there’s always a way to freshen up old material” and noting, “Cooper has succeeded in making a terrific melodrama for the modern age.”
Meanwhile, Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian writes that Cooper delivers “huge moments of emotional agony” in which he “de-machos the role” throughout the “outrageously watchable” film. Though Bradshaw notes that Cooper is “arguably prettier than Lady Gaga,” the pop star is the one that “commands” the audience’s attention.
Bradshaw also argues that the film’s title could be altered to read “A Star Is Dying” for the film “alludes tactlessly to something pretty real.” “For one star to deliver the shock of the new, another one has to receive the shock of the old,” he writes. “A Star Is Born turns that transaction into a love story."
Screen Daily’s Jonathan Romney seems impressed by Cooper and Gaga’s portrayals, which emerge with “honour,” but questions where the secondary characters stand alongside the main leads who “keep the show respectably afloat.” Critiquing that “characterization is thin all round,” Romney notes that veteran comic Andrew Dice Clay takes on a “cookie-cutter role as Ally’s doofus Italian-American dad” and Dave Chappelle gives “more grit that the role demands” as the friend of Cooper’s character.
Gaga is once again praised for her performance, as Romney writes that her acting “transcends the cliches” and further proves that “a star has been rebooted.” Though enjoyable for many, the critic notes that the film may not "be for everybody" and that the original music performed by Gaga and Cooper is “unmemorably generic." He also argues that the film can be “sketchy on the mechanics of fame today,” including a lack of social media existence.
“A Star Is Born‘s heartwarming aura is owed less to Cooper’s own directing (assured and judicious a debut as it may be) than to the freshness and credibility brought by his fellow superstar. Believe the pre-premiere hype: Lady Gaga is nothing short of extraordinary,” writes the The Film Stage’s Leonardo Goi. Despite the film being Cooper’s directorial debut, Goi credits Gaga’s “goosebump-inducing performances” for taking center stage.
Consistently praising the pop singer for her acting chops, Goi writes that the film simply “showcases oodles of Gaga’s preternatural musical talent, but also confirms — if there was ever a need to prove it — her magnetic stage presence.” He acknowledges that the film “is not innovative,” for it does not aim to “offer some radical twists” to the story that’s been “dissected and visited for over 80 years,” but Cooper and Gaga’s “miracle of stage chemistry” creates a “touching portrait.”
Entertainment Weekly's Leah Greenblatt also praised the performances in the film, including those of Chappelle and Clay, which she calls "great unexpected supporting turns." She notes, "Their characters read much realer and more textured than the ones designed to move the plot along, like Ally’s smooth, ruthless manager Rez (Rafi Gavron), a textbook music industry Machiavelli."
On the technical side, Greenblatt praises Cooper's choice to hew more closely to "the naturalistic New Cinema style of his ’70s predecessor." She writes, "His camera works with a kind of feverish intimacy, closing in as Ally’s profile rises and Jackson stumbles back toward the bottle."
Ultimately, Greenblatt concludes, "If the ending is telegraphed from miles away, and the central romance feels more like a gorgeously patina-ed imitation of life than the real thing, maybe that’s because [Star] is less a story now than a myth — not so much reborn as recast, and passed on to the care of the next generation."
Though the film stars both Cooper and Gaga in the leads, IndieWire’s Michael Nordine writes that the film is more of a “coming-out party” for the singer whereas “Cooper is a co-lead” and has the onscreen goal of playing “second fiddle.” “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,” writes Nordine.
Nordine argues that Cooper is “hobbled by the source material,” which consists of alcoholism, recovery and “the perils of overnight stardom,” and ultimately fails at being “as adept” as his predecessors in tackling the character’s troubles. Despite having their own individual stories, Nordine emphasizes that “the film itself feels like a kind of duet, and suffers when the two aren’t sharing the screen.”
Glenn Kenny of RogerEbert.com writes that he views the remake as a film that is “very smart about both contemporary showbiz and issues of addiction and abusive behavior.” Cooper, Kenny notes, is an “able” director, whereas Gaga's delivers a “breakout performance.” Apart from praising the pop star for offering a “credible update” to Esther Blodgett, Kenny writes that Cooper’s character is given “more of a backstory than he’s ever had” in previous versions. Meanwhile, Cooper's directing skills are “at his best” when he positions the camera “close to his performers and captures their intimate interplay.”
Viewing the film as a “Big Movie Studio Craft” that is “well-thought out,” Kenny writes that A Star Is Born will please the “they don’t make 'em like that anymore” crowd.
The film hits theaters Oct. 5.