There are few films I loathe more than The Sound of Music. Is it a well-crafted, if overlong musical? Yeah, sure. It's got the goods. Julie Andrews kills it on every level, the kids are the perfect amount of adorable yet competent, and Christopher Plummer has never not been good. That's not the cause of my cinematic pain. As a kid, my mother, who is the most wonderful human being and loyal reader of my articles, hunted down every television broadcast of the 1965 masterpiece and made the whole family sit down for them. Several times a year, we'd be POW'd in the living room, praying for something more than just "limited commercial interruption." It's a good musical, but come on! An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but apples get old real quick.
I hope that I don't ever over-watch the musical A Star is Born, because this film deserves an older Joe looking back fondly on its emotive power. Bradley Cooper stars in and directs this adaptation of an adaptation of an adaptation, and yet the tone of this movie holds classical cinema and raw emotion in the warmest of bear hugs that doesn't smell of regurgitation. This combination feels both old and new in style, while only occasionally failing to blend the two seamlessly.
Bradley plays Jackson Mane, a big-time rock star who seems to be on the downturn. His problem with alcohol bring him to conveniently have a run-in with Ally, acted with absolute gusto by the surprise sensation Lady Gaga. I say surprise only because I was maybe one of only a few to be underwhelmed by her acting on the FX show American Horror Story. Despite my impression from the exceeding of expectations, Gaga is objectively impressive in her moving portrayal of an artist on the rise entangled with the embattled Cooper. If nothing else comes from this film, a rise in future creative castings for Gaga would be a welcome and worthy result.
Rounding out the cast of characters are surprise hits and old favorites. Sam Elliot is a steady bet for anyone wanting a good performance, and his command of the scene will bring tears for many, and maybe some soft hearts from the more senior members of the audience. Andrew Dice Clay and Dave Chappelle are not only highlights in creative, effective choices, but also examples of first-time director Bradley Cooper's greatest strength: Emotion via actors. There are both occasional lulls and clashes brought out by the introduction of modern music institutions and practices that feel less than authentic, and Cooper isn't positioning himself as the most innovative newbies behind the camera. That said, the man knows how to bring the best out of each character, whether it be in their performances or his framing of moments and faces. There is something intimate in the camera angles and movements that lends itself to the realness and power of these relationships, both with the people and with the bottle. The warmth is so tangible because it hones in on the tragedy of fade and failure instead of smothering it.
With the wealth of bland blockbusters meant to appeal to the greatest common denominator (many of which I love with a passion and a fistful of popcorn), A Star is Born manages to draw in the big crowds without dulling its senses. Cooper and his cast have pieced together an emotive, powerful narrative. It even left me a little misty, and not just because I was in one of those theaters with the full food menus.
I give this film a solid 8 out of 10.
Joe Brueggemeyer hosts and edits The Marquee podcast with Logan, and has an unhealthy obsession with baking.