Irreconcilable Differences is a format where we talk about movies that we just can’t decide on. Is it good? Is it bad? What are its merits as a work of cinema? Irreconcilable Differences is meant to be read with some knowledge of the film in question and a strong set of opinions.
I’m not quite sure how one could possibly put a sour spin on the illustrious and stunning masterpiece that is “A Star is Born.” Truly, though, it would be a flat-out lie to pretend that “Shallow” and its hauntingly-beautiful lyrics are not permanently playing on a loop in our heads ever since the big screen went dark. With breathtaking performances from Bradley Cooper (“War Dogs”) and Lady Gaga (“American Horror Story: Hotel”), a spine-chillingly-killer soundtrack and a tone of authenticity that prevails throughout, “A Star is Born” is an electric knockout (and it better win a damn Oscar).
The film’s portrayal of what appears to be such a real romance speaks volumes to the technology-saturated generations of today. Jack’s question of whether Ally is “happy in this modern world,” or “need(s) more” ripples through the minds of millennial and Gen Z viewers alike. We ponder Jack’s throaty lyrics, wondering if perhaps, in today’s social-media and tech-overdosed world, we do need more than Tinder “dates” and raunchy, late night “u-ups.” The film perfectly resonates with an audience that feels nostalgic for a time they never knew, a time when romance was concrete, raw, built on genuine connection and, well, not dead.
Let’s rewind to Jack and Ally’s written-in-the-stars meet-cute at the drag bar. Jack’s first encounter with Ally is one where she doesn’t know he is watching. She is in her zone. Performing at her local bar, Ally radiates a relaxed yet sexy sophistication and intensity that Jack is enticed by almost immediately. Right from the start, Jack is introduced to the real Ally. This first meeting is unsullied by superficial impressions from profile pictures or bio captions, and instead, Jack and Ally are introduced to one another in their natural states, Jack slow-talking and buzzed off more than a few drinks and Ally performing an enchanting rendition of “La Vie en Rose.”
Cooper’s superb directing weaves this same vibe of realness throughout the remainder of the film, hooking us into a love so outstanding and wondrous, we swear it is from another time. Following the evolution of Jack and Ally’s relationship from their initial run-in at the bar to their ridiculously charming gas station non-date to their cross-country road-tripping adventures and finally, to their married life, our fascination with their otherworldly chemistry and music continues to grow, ultimately reaching its peak with Jack’s gut-wrenching death. As our tears, or rather, our sobs, echo through the theater walls, we can’t help but glorify Cooper’s directing chops and say a prayer of thanks for the gift that is Lady Gaga’s vocal chords. By the end of this film, a realization that we could never have known hours before sets in: We may never be ready for another movie-romance because this one was just that good. Like Ally, we find ourselves believing that we too may “never love again.” And once “A Star is Born” enters on-demand streaming, we may never have to.
— Samantha Nelson, Daily Arts Writer
Hesitant after the impression the trailer of Bradley Cooper’s “A Star is Born” had left, I asked a male friend: Does the film imply a woman needs a man to succeed? He paused briefly, before answering, “no.”
Hesitant after realizing I had asked a male friend a question about gender relations, I asked a female friend the same question. She paused slightly longer, but also answered, “no.”
Little did I know that the question I should have been asking all along went something more like, “Does the film imply that for a female star to be born, a male star has to die?” Given that each of the four iterations of “A Star is Born” stay loyal to this detail, apparently the answer is, “yes.”
I cannot withhold Lady Gaga’s due praise for her portrayal of Ally. With a commanding performance, she manages to seize control of every scene — perhaps even ones she wasn’t supposed to dominate. That paired with her and Cooper’s chemistry makes for an unconventionally balanced love story in terms of how it treats each respective lover as independent though their stories may intertwine.
But “A Star is Born” has to be held to more than its acting performances. It’s yet another instance of Hollywood’s raging reboot fever, so it is also about the stories we consider worth retelling, as well as how we go about retelling them.
Every “Star” has been about stars, of course. The near-century of remakes would suggest the story continues to allow insight into the entertainment industry. However, the latest iteration hardly ever averts its eyes from the leads, so the film lacks the context that could help not only justify the remake but also help it say something new.
Instead, the main strategy Cooper’s version employs to modernize the story are minute reversals of gender-based injustices. For example, Cooper’s character Jack expresses a fetishistic appreciation for Gaga’s character Ally’s nose after she reveals it barred her from success in the industry. In another scene, Ally throws a punch at an overbearing fan in defense of Jack.
But the film remains loyal to other formulae, many of which yield disconcerting biproducts. From 1937 to the present day, every time the female star is born, the male star dies. Regardless of whether that male star is self-destructive, a female cannot seem to rise without causing her man to fall.
Which brings me to my last point (Can I say it? I have to say it): I’m tired of love stories — formulaic ones. Love stories that seek to gratify audiences with hasty marriages rather than questioning our reliance on a flawed institution, that prescribe romance as the ultimate form of intimacy between a man and a woman, that ask us to go gaga over another white, heterosexual, cisgender couple.
No matter how many minute reversals accumulate, these larger tropes make 2018’s “A Star is Born” the same old song and story. It might not be worth retelling.
— Julianna Morano, Daily Arts Writer
This fourth edition of the well-trodden, self-destructive musician story leads off with a powerful 45 minutes. Held up by a great one-two punch performance form Bradley Cooper as the vodka-guzzling, fallen-star Jackson Maine, and Lady Gaga as the industry newcomer Ally, the film’s first act is an affecting road movie about two characters who act as each other’s moments of salvation. The relationship is inviting, though fraught, and has just enough sour to it to breathe the mustard-gas breath of what’s to come. “A Star is Born” first finds its strength in the two characters it presents, and only begins to lose its way when it forgets that.
As soon as Gaga’s Ally signs a record deal, as soon as she begins her own musical journey, the plot then somewhat split between the characters, the film’s texture begins to slip away. Quickly, “A Star is Born” becomes a movie about self-destructive tropes instead of a movie about the two characters who had grabbed our attention so far. The last hour or so focuses, then, on how the two drift apart, how the rifts of career and pride tear rifts in their household. It would be wrong to say that the film isn’t allowed to be sad, instead my criticism would be that the film doesn’t seem interested in being anything else. Sometimes the visceral reaction you get from a movie like “A Star is Born” is conflated with abject quality in the work of art. The film is difficult and sad through and through, but I’d closer classify it as a work in grief-porn than as a terrific piece of cinema.
The dissociation of the characters in “A Star is Born” is interesting, as it shows how a movie can lose itself when it puts its themes in front of the characters that are supposed to carry them. The second and third acts of “A Star is Born” could have been out of any movie about a troubled, alcohol-abusing musician in a relationship — and that’s not a good thing. It’s understandable that the film wanted to see itself as two halves — building the relationship up, and then tearing it back down — but in order for it to do that properly, in order to turn those two halves into a whole, it has to feel like it’s the same movie the entire time.
— Stephen Satarino, Daily Arts Writer