Add Bradley Cooper to the list of actors who’ve made the successful leap to directing, it seems. The first reviews for Cooper’s directorial debut, a remake of A Star Is Born, have arrived out of the Venice Film Festival, and they’re quite positive. Hype has been strong ever since Warner Bros. dropped that stunning first trailer, with fans eager to see this story of an aging rocker (Cooper) who mentors and falls in love with an up-and-coming star (Lady Gaga). So how does the actual film stack up? Quite well, it appears, especially when it comes to Gaga, although it’s not quite the be-all, end-all game-changer some had expected/hoped it to be.
In Owen Gleiberman’s rave review for Variety, the critic draws positive comparisons to Cameron Crowe’s classic Almost Famous:
Hollywood almost never succeeds in nailing the rock world, but A Star Is Born, though a love story through and through, is the most lived-in rock ‘n’ roll movie since Almost Famous. And that absolute looks right, sounds right, feels right verisimilitude sets the stage for everything that follows.
He continues, also heaping praise on Cooper’s directorial abilities:
As a filmmaker, Bradley Cooper gets right onto the high wire, staging scenes that take their time and play out with a shaggy intimacy that’s shorn of the usual “beats.” The new “Star Is Born” is a total emotional knockout, but it’s also a movie that gets you to believe, at every step, in the complicated rapture of the story it’s telling.
Leonardo Goi at The Film Stage was more muted in his review, noting that Gaga is the true revelation here despite a trope-laden plot:
The plot enters autopilot mode in a matter of minutes, and that Cooper’s work does not strike as trite is a miracle of sorts. But credit for A Star is Born‘s heartwarming aura is owed less to Cooper’s own directing (assured and judicious a debut as it may be) than to the freshness and credibility brought by his fellow superstar. Believe the pre-premiere hype: Lady Gaga is nothing short of extraordinary.
THR’s David Rooney asserts what many are saying, that Cooper’s iteration of A Star Is Born is not quite the best version of this story ever made—but that doesn’t make it a bad film:
But while this is not going to replace either the 1937 Janet Gaynor-Fredric March original or especially the beloved 1954 Judy Garland-James Mason remake as the classic version, Cooper’s fresh take finds plenty of mileage left in the well-trod showbiz saga.
Writing for The Playlist, Jessica Kiang also makes a point reiterated in many other reviews—that the film’s first half is superior to its second half:
It’s particularly good in its rousing, delightful, chemistry-laden first half that is launched like a rocket by the onstage footage of Cooper’s Jack Maine, washing down some pills with a slug of iced gin before stepping out under the swirling lights and throatily roaring some rawk against a backwash of crunching reverb. Unlike many similar semi-musical films, in which the tracks grind the storytelling to a halt, here the music, almost wholly originally composed for the film, does a fair bit of narrative heavy lifting from the beginning.
Largely, these reviews serve to temper some of the hyperbolic buzz that was surrounding the film over the past couple of months, which may work in the film’s favor. It remains one of my most anticipated movies of the fall, and Collider will have a review out of the film’s screening at TIFF next week.
But as for those Oscar prospects, never doubt the Academy’s love of showbiz stories. Despite somewhat tempered—although still mostly positive—reviews, this is still a major one to watch come awards time.
A Star Is Born hits theaters on October 5th.