By Nick Maylor
When I saw the trailer for Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, I was intrigued. When I heard our website’s senior critic praise the film at TIFF last year (where the film took the festival by storm), I was eager to see it. When I saw it that week, I was blown away. Two days later, I was still thinking about it. After I stayed up all night listening to the soundtrack album the day it was released, I was starting to think that it was one of my favourite all-time films. When Bradley Cooper didn’t receive an Oscar nomination for Best Director, I was perturbed, even if I was not surprised. As I write this, I maintain that it is the best thing I saw last year and has my vote to win Best Picture next month at the Oscars, although that category seems wide open as of this writing.
It’s a damned good film…
The film is the third remake of the same story and previously, Alan did an exploration of the previous versions of A Star is Born.
Prior to signing on to direct the latest version, Cooper was preceded by both Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood as contenders for the job. Eastwood (who has worked with Cooper on several occasions) was considering using Beyoncé Knowles-Carter as the film’s female lead. After noticing Cooper’s passion for the project, Eastwood stepped aside and encouraged the first-time director. Eastwood also encouraged the studio, championing Cooper to get the job. Eastwood quietly made it clear to the studio that he would be “displeased” if Cooper was not given the job.
As a part-time musician and performer who has a family history with addiction, Cooper’s film speaks to me personally on several levels but to say this is why the film works, is to do it a disservice. The film works because it’s a timeless love story that tugs at the heartstrings (when it isn’t punching your heart directly in the face), oozes sincerity and has all of those things that make us identify with movies in the first place; desire, regret, loss, hope, and joy.
The film has received serious Oscar recognition and even if he wasn’t acknowledged for directing the film, Bradley Cooper got three Oscar nods for the movie; for acting, producing and writing. All of these nominations are richly deserved. As are the acting nominations for Lady Gaga and Sam Elliot.
John hit the nail on the head when he said Bradley Cooper did everything right in this film. He used a real band, he made it a collaborative process through and through and he did the homework. While he isn’t as accomplished a musician as his character Jackson Maine is, he took piano lessons, guitar lessons and sang, sang, sang his ass off to get up to snuff to play that character. He had to. He was co-starring with an incredibly accomplished musician and singer.
Lady Gaga isn’t some run-of-the-mill pop star with limited ability. She has always had tremendous substance beneath all her various and extreme levels of style (she did wear a dress made of meat once). An accomplished pianist and songwriter, Stefani (as her co-stars refer to her) brought a lot to the table with her casting. She had never had a role nearly this sizable before and it was always going to be considered a risk but the payoff was huge.
The bonus materials for the home release show footage of Cooper and Gaga singing during their initial meeting about the project at Cooper’s home. Proving that the chemistry was there, Cooper implored Gaga to take the part, telling her (as later seen in the film) “All you’ve got to do is trust me.”
Cooper recruited Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, a country rock group fronted by the son of legend Willie Nelson, to appear as Jackson’s band and Lukas Nelson was integral throughout the production of the film’s music. Cooper says emphatically that there is no Jackson Maine without Lukas Nelson.
Cooper said he wanted the sound of Maine’s guitar playing to have a harsh attack, reminiscent of Neil Young. After seeing Neil Young perform with Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Cooper was determined to work with them, Nelson has said that he viewed Cooper as someone who was always a musician, just one that hadn’t come to fruition yet.
I cannot downplay the quality of the soundtrack album. It stands alone as a great record that will likely get recognized by the Grammys. It also serves as a beautiful companion piece to the film and its story. Songs that appear in the film get played out to their entirety on the album, revealing a lot about the characters of Jack & Ally, their motivations, desires, and dreams.
The film has received eight nominations for the 91st Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Cooper), Best Actress (Gaga), Best Supporting Actor (Elliot) and Best Original Song (“Shallow”).
A Star is Born is now available for digital download on iTunes and will be released on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray on February 19. The home video release will feature 10 minutes of never-before-seen musical performances by Cooper and Gaga, and jam recording sessions of songs like “Midnight Special”, “Is That Alright?” and “Baby What You Want Me to Do”.
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is the current Foote & Friends “expert” on all things geek/superhero/comic-book related. Nick is the host/producer of the official Foote & Friends On Film podcast. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor