A Star Is Born ★★★

Perhaps fittingly for a film that takes place in the pop milieu, as long as this version of A Star is Born doesn’t aim for introspection it transports us. The first hour or so here, which chart in moment-to-moment detail the plucking of Lady Gaga’s Ally from obscurity to her instant rise to stardom via a viral video, allow us to get caught up in the rush that a proximity to fame can bring. Here the film coasts on the leads’ charisma and the pleasure of revealing more about these characters. Once Cooper aims to start trading on the dramatic stakes that he’s set up, however, the film begins to falter considerably. Conflicted between making his alcoholic, drug-addicted cowboy a plausibly flawed human and a sex symbol, the film tries to have its beefcake and eat it too. Similarly, the degree to which the film holds him accountable for his destructive behavior is self-contradictory. In one scene, we’re repeatedly reminded that his addiction is a disease, but later we’re told that only he was to blame for his own downfall. This all isn’t enough to sink a film that coasts largely on the strength of its musical performances, of course, but it does indicate the lack of care put into the second half of this rise and fall narrative, to be sure… and worse yet it calls into question whether this “timeless” story is in fact past its sell-by date. The fourth version of A Star is Born to date, this seems to ignore the degree to which pop stardom has become degraded and oversaturated in the public sphere. The shocks that it offers in its second half no longer shock or even surprise.