Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5
USA, 2018. Warner Bros. Pictures, Live Nation Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Peters Entertainment, Gerber Pictures, Joint Effort, Malpaso Productions, Thunder Road Pictures. Screenplay by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters, based on the screenplay by Moss Hart, the screenplay by John Gregory Dunne, Joan Didion and Frank Pierson, and the story by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson. Cinematography by Matthew Libatique. Produced by Bradley Cooper, Bill Gerber, Lynette Howell Taylor, Jon Peters, Todd Phillips. Production Design by Karen Murphy. Costume Design by Erin Benach. Film Editing by Jay Cassidy.
Four previous versions (five if you count Mariah Carey) of varying success mean that Bradley Cooper can’t just remake the ever-popular tale of love and celebrity, he needs to also prove why we need it; that he makes a riveting and wholly engrossing film out of a story whose outcome is familiar to most anyone who watches it is practically a miracle, further proving his own talents and coaxing a great performance out of the usually stiff and awkward Lady Gaga in the process.
Cooper stars as an alcoholic rock singer whose chance encounter seeing Gaga sing at a drag bar captivates him, not just because she has killer pipes but also contains a force of personality that he believes the world deserves to experience. She is charmed by his honesty and friendliness and agrees to join him on the road, before long finding herself an overnight sensation while also having to deal with the fact that the man she falls in love with is being dragged down by his demons, while her prospects are moving steadily upwards.
This one doesn’t have the grandeur of the Judy Garland version (to which it nods with an acapella version of “Over The Rainbow” in the opening scene) but it does correct most of what is wrong with the Barbra Streisand film, featuring an impressive soundtrack (the songs are actually all wonderful) while getting key elements of the story so right that the film’s flaws are easily forgivable. Gaga’s entrance is awkward and unnecessary, we don’t need to see her screaming about her ex-boyfriend in the bathroom given that her self-effacing attitude, which she pulls off so well, tells us enough about her in every subsequent scene, but the most egregious error in this film that comes closest to sinking it is a miscalculated third act, rushing through a major plot point in order to keep the story’s tradition intact but without it feeling honest or dramatically justified.
Such errors mar the energy of the film but not its magic, and there’s plenty of reason to celebrate how fresh this near-century old tale still feels: the chemistry between the leads is electrifying, there’s a genuine sense not just of love but also loyalty between these two that makes it irresistible to watch, and stakes that are convincing and effective. Gaga’s vocals truly are worthy of the sense of wonder with which she is treated by everyone around her, while Cooper convinces us of his prospects as a musician while capturing the misery that those trapped in addiction suffer.
Academy Award: Best Original Song (“Shallow”)
Nominations: Best Picture; Best Actor (Bradley Cooper); Best Actress (Lady Gaga); Best Supporting Actor (Sam Elliott); Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Cinematography; Best Sound Mixing
Golden Globe Award: Best Original Song (“Shallow”)
Nominations: Best Picture-Drama; Best Actor-Drama (Bradley Cooper); Best Actress-Drama (Lady Gaga); Best Director (Bradley Cooper)
Screen Actors Guild Award Nominations: Outstanding Motion Picture Cast; Best Male Actor (Bradley Cooper); Best Female Actor (Lady Gaga); Best Supporting Male (Sam Elliott)
Toronto International Film Festival: 2018