Financially speaking, I understand the logic behind the plethora of remakes confronting audiences in American cinemas. Why, as a studio, would you risk millions of dollars on an untested intellectual property when you could make a safe bet on a sure thing? I get it. But why in God’s name did anybody think we needed a fourth iteration of A Star Is Born? They’ve all gone downhill since William Wellman’s 1937 version, and the decline has been precipitous. Why Bradley Cooper would choose to make his directorial debut with a version of this oft-trod story — based more heavily on the lamentable Kris Kristofferson/Barbara Streisand take from ’76 than its predecessors — is beyond me. The only thing more baffling at this point is why so many critics seem to think it’s the bee’s knees.
Let’s be clear on one point: This one is shorter than both the 1954 Judy Garland/James Mason version directed by George Cukor and the ’76 version, which I appreciate greatly. But at 135 minutes, it’s still objectively 30 minutes too long, and that’s before we discuss the subjective experience. And subjectively speaking, that experience is odd, drawn-out self-indulgence taken to the nth degree with no respite at any point. This is a musical with garbage music, a melodrama deficient in the drama department and a catastrophe of aesthetic inadequacy. It’s pure pop-culture pabulum, fawning over its own pretensions while failing to mine its source material for any deeper sense of meaning or emotional resonance. In short, it’s the worst version of this story to date.
For what it’s worth, all the fuss that’s been made over Lady Gaga’s performance is not entirely unwarranted. She delivers a self-assured turn that outshines that of co-star and director Cooper at every turn, and that’s before she starts singing. But that very assuredness proves ill-suited to the ingenue role, as she seems too tough, too confident to believably need the help of Cooper’s washed up folk-rocker, much less to put up with his shenanigans. Cooper’s performance is another story altogether, with his mealy-mouthed, incomprehensibly mumbling Eddie Vedder impersonation amounting to one of the worst acting decisions in recent memory.
As a director, Cooper is utterly lacking in the visual acuity to carry a feature. His framing is arbitrary to the point of incoherence, his setups are thoroughly uninspired, and his sense of pacing and story structure are simply absent. But perhaps the most egregious flaw of A Star Is Born is the fact that Cooper, with co-writers Eric Roth and Will Fetters, has lost the emotional core of their story amid the melodrama. Yes, the highs and lows of celebrity life are cursorily examined, but they’re neither high nor low enough to sustain the compulsory plot points they need to support.
Look, chances are you’ve seen at least one of the three previous takes on this story, and this one adds nothing of merit to that legacy. If you want to hear Lady Gaga sing bad songs well, then here’s your chance. If you want to watch Bradley Cooper smear cake on her face multiple times — though I can’t imagine why you would — well, I guess we’ve got that, too. But if you’re looking for anything resembling a worthwhile film, A Star Is Born is little more than a cinematic miscarriage.