This a movie I will see again soon. Very soon. I went into this film cautiously optimistic and came out feeling like the man in those old Memorex commercials. This guy….
I wasn’t the first person in the auditorium to make the comparison. Not just because I was blown away by the story, the look, and the performances, but this was truly a movie where you wanted to feel the sound. Different than you might experience sound from Star Wars or Top Gun, but no less appropriate; and the studio knew it! … Hardcore rant coming at the end, so hold on.
The film focuses on Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) and Ally (Lady Gaga). Two characters that I feel I know so well, that I can say with all sincerity that I will not IMDb this movie until I am done with this review and never change those names (yes, we do that a lot, too)*.
Jackson, an already world renowned, rough around the edges country star in the Kris Kristofferson vein, discovers Ally, a struggling waitress, performing one night after slogging through her day job. After the performance, they sit in the parking lot where Ally wows Jackson with her authenticity and talent. He crushes on her a little bit. She crushes on him a little bit and then they fall for each other. Hard. Charmed by Ally’s talent Jackson playfully pulls Ally on stage during one of his performances and, voila, “A Star is Born”. I could over complicate this plot. It is brilliantly simple. It starts off very romantic and goes the way of most music biopics… with pills and booze. A problem that Jackson is wrestling with from the beginning of the film.
I can say that the one thing that really stood out was that Ally never really felt like a hanger-on that was using Jackson for fame. A cliché I was readily expecting. This is a dynamic that has been played so many times before. The chemistry between the two leads lent an authenticity to the story that translated back to the viewer as genuine affection. Actually, it was more than that. It was like that first connection with that person that you know will be a special someone in your life forever. I am not even speaking in a purely romantic sense, but in the “I felt like I’ve known you forever” sense. It is that real, and it makes for brilliant performances.
Outside of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, Andrew Dice Clay is unnoticeable as Ally’s “Should’ve Been a Big Shot” father and Sam Elliott does an always fantastic job as Jackson’s “Should’ve Been a Big Shot” Brother. The rest of the cast does a great job of doing what all great backup singers or dancers do. They complement the stars that are supposed to shine brightest.
As I sat enjoying the film I realized how much I had missed those music-centric films from the ’80s that were what I’ll call “Musicals on the Sly”. Movies like “Purple Rain” and “The Bodyguard”. Movies that tried to seem deep on plot but were really all about the soundtrack. The difference with this film is that it feels really deep on plot although it has literally been done 3 times before. The concert sequences dare you to raise up in applause, but the heartfelt script tied into the music so well you are kinda floored. I didn’t realize I needed this music in my life, but this soundtrack will get more than a few plays. But this is a film and experience really meant to be seen in a THEATER….
RANT BEGINS: This film actually debuted 3 days early in Dolby Cinema, and this is important. I don’t know if it was AMC Theater’s idea or the studio's idea, but this marked a real coming out party for the format (Yes, this is all relevant to the film. I’m getting there). The magic of this format has been very much lost in the shadows of IMAX except for the true cinephile that gets deep into the sound and brilliance of the projected image. No, it does not replace 70mm film, but in the digital arena, it is this formats laser projected beauty that can literally darken an entire theater with its blacks, unlike a regular projector that uses a bulb. Or make colors brilliantly come to life from this laser-honed precision!… but, that is not the most relevant part of this movie.
Back to the Memorex guy, this was a movie that had its sound mixed so good that the concert pieces felt like a real concert (Dolby Atmos specifically). The sounds hit you from all around in a way no other theater has been able to mimic. If it is raining you hear the rain coming from single points above you all around the theater. Now take LIVE MUSIC and throw it into the mix and it is beyond amazing. Having seen just about every big-budget film in this format since The Force Awakens and being rightly blown away, I was astonished to find that the real potential for the format wasn’t in the big explosion-laden extravaganzas but in a film like this! A film that can place you, the viewer, into a place where we have all been: A CONCERT AUDITORIUM!!… and make that feeling come alive like you are there. It makes the atmosphere of a noise club completely real in a way it never has before. They released this movie SOLELY in this format 3 days early! This was a match made in heaven. I’m not sure how well that played, but I can tell you that the applause that was present for much of the audience that was in attendance (minus us grumpy film critics) speak very loudly.
*Yes, it was Jackson Maine and Ally!
- V. Versus the World (VVTW)