Review: A Star is Born (TIFF 2018)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

PLOT: An alcoholic superstar rocker (Bradley Cooper) falls in love with a young singer (Lady Gaga), giving her a start in the biz. But, soon her career starts to eclipse his and threatens to unearth old demons.

REVIEW: I walked into TIFF knowing that in many ways, A STAR IS BORN is the anointed one. It seems unfathomable that this won’t be a smash hit at the box office and clean-up at the Oscars, with it receiving rapturous reviews in Venice and Telluride, but fact is months ago the word of mouth on this was already off the charts. While it’s always a danger than something like this could be overhyped, having finally seen the finished version I’m happy to say that Cooper, who stars, directed and has a co-writing credit, has pulled off one of the more remarkable directorial debuts in years.


The fourth version of this venerable tale, Cooper’s film is actually quite similar to the mega-hit seventies one with Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand, with it taking place in the music biz and sporting a soundtrack that should be a massive seller. Cooper’s crafted himself one hell of a starring role as Jackson Maine, a rock star on his way down the tubes, boasting a worsening tinnitus and an out-of control alcohol habit. With his face flushed with patchy red skin, he looks closer to what an actual alcoholic would look like, even if his frequently featured six-pack feel like a concession to Hollywood. Jackson is a charming rogue and it’s probably his best starring role to date. In a neat surprise he also has quite a decent singing voice.

However, the performance that’s going to knock people’s socks off (and that’s not a slight on Cooper) is Lady Gaga. Playing a singer-songwriter who really only cuts loose when performing with kindly drag queens at a cabaret, the part seems closely patterned on the singer herself, especially when she’s eventually transformed into a bright-haired pop star. Vulnerable but also tough, the part is ideally suited to its star and she aces it. Have no doubt – Lady Gaga is a full-on actress now and a good one to boot.

Cooper’s also recruited one hell of a supporting cast, with Sam Elliot excellent as his much-older brother, who works as his road manager but also is someone he has a deeply fractured relationship with. None other than Andrew “Dice” Clay steals scenes as Gaga’s nice guy dad, while Dave Chapelle has a few really nice moments as one of Cooper’s few regular guy, non-sycophant friends.

Something unmistakable about A STAR IS BORN is the deeply cynical take on fame, with no bones being made about the fact that the more famous Gaga’s Ally becomes, the worse her music is. Similarly, there are numerous scenes where people ask Cooper’s Jackson for selfies, an act which is presented as being deeply intrusive. The movie really does seem like the work of someone with a conflicted attitude towards his own fame, but it makes it a meatier film.

Running a solid 135 minutes, A STAR IS BORN is a pretty epic showbiz tale, but there’s no doubt in my mind this will be a massive crowdpleaser and one that deserves all the kudos it’s going to get. People will certainly write opt-ed’s asking if its overrated, but frankly it’s among the few movies I’ve seen recently that delivers an unmistakably emotional journey, and it packs a punch.



A Star is Born



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.