Picture it: A remake of Scarface, set in modern-day El Paso! In the lead role and director’s chair: Paul Rudd! Playing his love interest: Miley Cyrus! And in key supporting roles: Kevin Hart, Wilford Brimley and Gallagher!
Sounds god-awful, right? The kind of movie you’d run from screaming and never look back?
This is pretty much what was supposed to happen with A Star Is Born, which opens Friday. Yet the world, against all logic, is salivating to see it.
We all had every right to be skeptical. It’s a remake of a remake of a remake, made by a former People’s Sexiest Man Alive turned first-time director (Bradley Cooper), starring a pot-stirring pop singer (Lady Gaga) with a motley supporting cast (including Dave Chappelle, Sam Elliott and Andrew Dice Clay). Who asked for this? It’s the filmmaking equivalent of refrigerator poetry.
Advance buzz for the film out of film festivals in Venice and Toronto has been intense; critics have called the film "rapturous," "triumphant" and "colossally enjoyable" with some calling Cooper, Gaga and the film itself the early frontrunners at next year’s Oscars.
But advance buzz and a dollar will buy you a cup of coffee. The real reason people are freaking out over A Star Is Born is the trailer.
From the moment Gaga tweeted the lush, aching trailer on June 6, the Internet was gobsmacked. Hot from the oven came the takes: "A Star Is Born Will Be Either the Best or Worst Movie of the Year," wrote the Ringer; "Lady Gaga Is Coming For The Oscars," wrote Glamour.
Even while acknowledging the film could still be a fiasco, everyone agreed the trailer was a knockout. It now has more than 9 million views on YouTube; for comparison’s sake, the trailer for the Neil Armstrong biopic (and fellow Best Picture contender) First Man, released around the same time, has 1.7 million.
Director Joss Whedon summed up the Internet’s collective reaction to the trailer when he tweeted the following:
I don’t know if I’m interested in seeing Lady Gaga in A Star is Born.
I don’t want to see anything that’s not Lady Gaga in A Star is Born, I’m just gonna shut my eyes till it’s out.
Can we pinpoint from the trailer how A Star Is Born has already charmed so many, and why the film inexplicably feels so necessary in 2018? Let’s watch it once more, for the 58th time, and suss it out together.
0:06:"Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die," Cooper sings in the trailer’s opening words. He couldn’t be more right. Yes, this is the fourth A Star Is Born, following versions with Janet Gaynor (1937), Judy Garland (1954) and Barbra Streisand (1976), but have you watched those films lately? Each has charms but is also flawed; they are by turns earnest and manic and wooden and feature too many moments of casual misogyny. A Star Is Born is a quintessential Hollywood story — a fading male star discovers and falls for a starlet on the rise, in the process experiencing all the pain fame can inflict — and yet it’s one that Hollywood, inexplicably, has never gotten exactly right. Maybe it’s time, indeed.
0:29:Here we see Cooper testing the hearing in his ringing ears and walking into what appears to be a support group. Half of A Star Is Born hinges on the male star’s emotional spiral, yet no previous version asked Fredric March (1937), James Mason (1954) or Kris Kristofferson (1976) to dig too deeply, too intimately — to really, y’know, act. Cooper is gorgeous, but he’s also a four-time Oscar nominee and remarkably likeable screen presence. The trailer reveals little of the downfall of his sweaty, boozed-up country-rock star Jackson Maine — and if you’ve seen the other versions, you know how the story tends to end. But it looks like Cooper could be the series’ best male lead ever.
1:00:"Almost every single person has told me they like the way I sounded, but that they didn’t like the way I look," says Lady Gaga’s understated lounge singer Ally. Talk about real talk. Gaga is one of her generation’s best pure vocalists, but so much of her career has been defined by her appearance, be it her unconventional natural beauty or otherworldly fashions. Many singers were rumored to lead potential remakes over the years, including Beyoncé, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez and Alicia Keys, but from the trailer it looks like this was Gaga’s part all along. In every high-pressure situation in her career — the VMAs, the Grammys, the Super Bowl — Gaga has always delivered. This looks like yet another victory.
1:16:Our first taste of Shallow, one of the film’s big, emotional musical numbers. Co-written by (among others) Gaga and Mark Ronson, it will get Oscar consideration for Best Original Song. And the same could be said for the rest of the sprawling soundtrack, which also drops Friday, and features contributions from a murderer’s row of songwriters, including Jason Isbell, Diane Warren, Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna and Hillary Lindsey. Plus, it seems Cooper can really sing! And as for Gaga...
1:46:"HOHHH, OH-OH-OH-OHHHH, OHHH-WHOA, HOH-OH-OH-OH-OHHHHHHH..." Yeah, that’s Lady Gaga doing her Lady Gaga thing. Now do you get why we’re all so excited?
1:51:There’s a quick POV shot of a tour bus rolling down the highway at sunset. It lasts less than a second, yet sticks with you. Older versions were visually evocative in their own ways, from the vintage Hollywood of 1937 to the manic studio productions of 1954 to the limitless Big Sky landscapes of 1976. The trailer promises a gorgeous palette of bold colors popping through shadows as if through an Instagram filter, with realistic concert footage filmed at arenas and amphitheaters and Coachella. It leaves the impression that Cooper — who studied at the feet of Clint Eastwood and David O. Russell — really did pull this thing off.
2:11:It’s Cooper and Gaga once more, emerging from the bus in slow motion. She puts on his hat. He slides his arm around her. This, in the end, is the only shot that matters. With its borderline-hack storyline, a film like A Star Is Born can only live and die on its chemistry (just go rewatch the 1976 version, which had none, and you’ll see). But in less than 2?½ minutes, the connection between Cooper and Gaga already feels believable, palpable, enviable. A romance about Hollywood should sweep you into the screen itself. It should make you believe it’s all possible. Can A Star Is Born pull it off? Before the trailer, few would’ve said yes. Now, unbelievably, you can picture it.
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.