Blu-ray Review: A Star is Born

I remember watching the TV show Alias back in the early 2000s, which starred Jennifer Garner as spy for the CIA and one of her friend’s in the show was a reporter named Will Tippin. The actor who played Will was Bradley Cooper back when he was just starting out, and I recall instantly loving his character because of the charisma Cooper brought to the role. I remember following his career through various appearances on TV shows like Nip/Tuck, to smaller films like The Midnight Meat Train and for some reason I always hoped he’d get the recognition he deserved. Eventually the spotlight shone brightly upon him with the 2009 blockbuster hit The Hangover, and now we’ve arrived at the point where he’s proven himself to not only be one of the top actors of the generation, but also a natural talent behind the camera as well with his directorial debut A Star is Born.

This is the fourth time that the film has been remade, and while it’s not something a film critic often admits, this is actually the first time I’ve seen the story told. So, with no knowledge of the previous films to compare it to, I went in to this movie the same way I like to go in to any movie I’m about to watch – knowing absolutely nothing about it. And boy, was I left in awe.

The story begins with seasoned musician Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) taking a handful of pills and washing it down with hard liquor before walking out on stage to the roaring admiration of his many fans. He gets through the set, stumbles back to his car and has his driver take him to the first bar he can find. It’s here that fate intervenes and Jackson meets Ally (Lady Gaga), who performs once a week at this bar. Jackson is instantly enamoured and wants to take Ally out for drinks after the show. The two hit it off, and while Ally tells Jackson of her troubles ever getting a music career off the ground, Jackson doesn’t think twice about inviting her out to his next show, and then pulling her on stage for a duet without any warning.

It’s clear that Jackson sees the raw talent in Ally, the songwriter that just needs the chance to let her voice be heard, and he has the platform to let that happen. And as she rises to the challenge, their relationship finds its own struggles, as Jackson not only suffers from a severe alcohol and drug addiction, but is also dealing with tinnitus, which is only growing worse due to his desire to not wear any ear protection while performing so that he can be in the moment with his audience. With Ally’s career on the way up, and Jackson spiraling down, is there any way their love can remain unscathed?

Now there’s been a lot of talk about Lady Gaga, and rightfully so, but let me take a minute to focus on Cooper. Not only does his vision of the film elevate the story to the emotional heights it needs to hit along the way, but his work in front of the camera is completely engrossing. I want to see more of Jackson Maine, and any time he was on screen, anything he had to say, I was completely invested. The hardships of Jack’s earlier years and the wars he’d had since with the bottle can be seen in all aspects of Cooper’s performance. The body language he gives off and the emotion shown through his eyes often both say more than any words could, and it’s clear why he’s once again been nominated for top acting honours.

Then we have Gaga, who absolutely nails the role of Ally to perfection. While many actors can be tooled with in post-production to make it so they sound like they can sing beautifully, a natural voice like Gaga’s that can hit notes that’ll turn heads is almost vital to the role. It has to be believable that Ally is someone who almost has all it takes, but just can’t catch that break. In the film they talk about how any time she gets into a meeting because of her voice, she’d be turned away because of her looks. Now, Gaga is a beautiful woman, but when she talks about the size of her nose and things like that, I have no doubt that those are things she’s been told in reality as she was trying to make it big. Of course it’s ridiculous to think that way to some, but it’s no secret the industry is vein in those regards, so Gaga having something she could point out as a deal-breaking flaw to some producers is believable to the audience; unlike, say, Rachael Leigh Cook in She’s All That who is supposed to be viewed completely unattractive until she loses the overalls.

The point is that this was a role meant for Gaga. The film was actually in development years before Cooper took the reins, and at that time it had Clint Eastwood looking to direct and Beyonce playing the part of Ally. While I’m sure she would’ve done well, her as Ally – much like many actors who passed up on would-be iconic roles – in hindsight just doesn’t feel right; whereas Gaga is a natural fit that now can’t be seen any other way.

The chemistry the two share on screen is also completely natural. They fully embrace the roles they’re playing and live in this world, which is exactly what a movie that relies so heavily on its lead characters needs. The film’s soundtrack is beautifully written, and Cooper playing the country singer plays to his vocal strengths, while Gaga has no weaknesses on the musical front, nailing both the country and pop aspects of her character with precision and ease. Whether they’re singing solo or belting out duets, the music helps propel the story forward as it should, and it’s so well written and performed that picking up the soundtrack upon finishing the movie is almost an involuntary thought.

As I briefly mentioned earlier, Cooper shines behind the camera in his directorial debut. His knowledge to focus in on the relationship between Jackson and Ally, and keeping things simple when others may try to dazzle, all while making the story as riveting as can be proves he has a natural eye for storytelling and I’m eager to see what the future holds for him in that position as well.

A Star is Born is the type of film that screams old Hollywood, and its strong characters and emotionally investing story makes it clear why it’s been remade and updated time and time again for multiple generations of moviegoers. With a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack, award-worthy performances and a love story that hits all the right notes, A Star is Born is a movie you don’t want to miss.

The Blu-ray transfer of the film is fantastic, with beautiful, clean visuals whether it be the middle of a concert in the middle of the day, or the dark, seedier type of bar scene, the movie looks sharp. On the audio front, the music blasts out in surround sound, showcasing the talents and highlighting these moments as it should, while the audio mix and dialogue come through nice and clear in between.

Special Features:

The Road to Stardom: Making A Star is Born This feature is 30-minutes long and is basically the only real special feature for those who want to get a look behind the scenes. I will say that if you’re only going to have one big feature, having it cover most of the bases on some level at least makes up for it there. Here we see Cooper and the cast/crew talk about bringing the film to life, the characters, the music, how Cooper studied music to play his part, Cooper’s work behind the camera and shooting the big musical scenes. As mentioned, it covers a lot. A commentary track would’ve been really great, especially had they been able to nab both Cooper and Gaga, but alas, we’ll take what we can get.

Jam Sessions and Rarities – There are three different musical performances here to watch, all between two and three minutes in length.

Music Videos – Here we have the music video for Shallow by Lady Gaga and Cooper, as well as Always Remember Us This Way, Look What I Found, and I’ll Never Love Again, all performed by Gaga.

Musical Moments – For those who want to relive the music of the film without having to watch the film in its entirety once again, then this feature is for you! Here you have all the films musical scenes back to back in one place for your enjoyment!

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Presents A Star is Born. Directed by: Bradley Cooper. Written by: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters. Starring: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Rafi Gavron, Anthony Ramos, Dave Chappelle. Running time: 136 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: Feb. 19, 2019.

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