Alright let’s go on a journey.
The trailer for A Star Is Born played everywhere before everything, and has also managed to roll up approximately a gazillion views online. This was mystifying to me as I thought it looked schmaltzy as hell, and yet the obsession was clearly genuine. I felt a little left out! Then the movie started playing in festivals, and soon after went into wide release, and I swear to god my entire film critic feed has talked about nearly nothing else since. This is when I moved crankily from confusion to resentment, because there was no way this movie was that good. But apparently I wasn’t going to be able to talk comparatively about this entire film season without seeing it, and unlike Three Billboards it didn’t sound like it was overtly racist (there is a Wise Down-home Black Character who just appears to literally pull a white man onto his feet, but y’know, Hollywood), so alright okay I’ll go.
Then one thing led to another, and I ended up having to wait a few weeks until I finally went to a showing with my sister this past weekend (the house was still PACKED) (my god this thing is POPULAR), and by this point, twist, I was really truly excited! I was finally seeing the hit of my Twitter dash! A woman in front of me turned around before it started to ask if this was A Star Is Born? — because we were at my beloved farm-to-table restaurant/movie theater that shows related old films beforehand instead of ads, adorable — and I explained to her how this latest is a remake of a remake of an adaptation, what was playing right now was the Judy Garland version, and with that interaction now this was like, MY movie.
It started and I was immediately happy. I was having a really great time. It wasn’t actually schmaltzy at all, it was just about feelings and music! Wonderful! Bradley Cooper is doing a great job! Lady Gaga is doing terrific, wow truly the star is born. She’s singing ‘La Vie En Rose’ at a drag bar, she’s singing ‘Shallow’ in a parking lot, “Jackson Maine” keeps getting tears in his eyes watching her and it’s so charming. His voice is so dumb, she’s so skeptical, what a delight. They get to that big concert moment from the trailer, you know it you’ve also seen it twenty times already, and my god if it doesn’t lose an inch of its power having been previewed. Tears just RUNNING down my cheeks, transcendent cinema, matchless magic, this is entertainment.
And then, its hold on me gradually loosened. I found myself noticing that this movie is long. (It is long, this isn’t a fault it’s just not something you’re supposed to notice.) I was prodding a little at my own feelings like hey what’s going on. Remember, my memory said, when we thought this movie was probably overhyped? Oh. Yeah I remember now. And at the end, I do, here on the other side, think A Star Is Born is not in fact the savior of cinema/the year, as it has been praised all over the board. Because A Star Is Born is just (just*) a good emotional movie.
*Good emotional movies are hard to make! This is a great accomplishment by Bradley, made even more impressive with this being his first ever directing project. He makes some really smart choices about how to update the story into our times, from the music genres to the way it frames substance addiction. He does an excellent job with the depiction of his character, and still gives the movie to L. Gaga, like a gentleman (who knows what’s up).
But A Star Is Born (2018) is a simple picture. Honestly I think that’s a huge part of its appeal to a lot of people, something you can just sit back and watch as it takes you through its comfortable melodrama beats — kinda like Colette, which I loved. But by and large, I most like weirder fare. And I don’t mean that as a synonym for ambitious, because this movie is wildly ambitious, and that it achieves what it wants is remarkable and what will carry it through awards season. It’s just that when I look though at my personal on-going ranking of new releases I’ve seen so far this year, almost all of the mainstream ones are in the bottom half of my list, because I gotta live my truth. But for what it’s worth, this one does currently lead that section. Because as David Ehrlich put it, “A Star Is Born is an okay movie, but a bonafide, overdrive, war-time meme and music factory.” And listen — I value that.