After what felt like an eternity, after we spent countless hours rewatching the movie’s trailer and singing every word to “Shallow,” A Star Is Born was finally released this weekend. The Ringer staff rushed to the theater and came out rejuvenated, their faith in the power of movies restored. Below, their considerably emotional reactions to the film event of the year.
1. What is your tweet-length review of A Star Is Born?
Lindsay Zoladz: A movie so self-serious that it should be silly, and yet somehow it transcends silliness and irony to become genuinely, deeply moving. I cannot believe they pulled this off.
Alyssa Bereznak: This movie is powerful enough to turn a nit-picky skeptic into an earnest, gushing fan. That is no small accomplishment in the year 2018.
Miles Surrey: Being famous sucks.
Jason Gallagher: A Star Is Born is the kind of movie that makes you say “Fuck yeah, movies.”
Amanda Dobbins: I am like a sentient Oscars montage now? The magic of movies! It’s real!
Michael Baumann: Not being in the office, I could never tell if our staff’s enthusiasm for this movie was because we thought it was going to be incredible or just incredibly over-the-top. I didn’t realize, until I drove home through tears to laugh undeterred at nose-touching memes, that it’d be both.
Jackson Safon: The first half was an unintentional comedy and the second half was an actually decent drama. Two for the price of one!
Alison Herman: An Oscar magnet is born. Two careers—one as a director, the other as a movie star—are born. But most importantly, enough memes to send Tumblr to Mars are born.
Chris Ryan: I came here to drink gin and choke back tears, and I’m all out of gin.
Andrew Gruttadaro: Never before has a movie so effectively been both a two-hour meme and a legitimately good film. Also, I found a pretty cool photo of me during the first 45 minutes of this movie:
2. What was the best moment of the film?
Bereznak: Even though I’ve seen it about 6,000 times, the moment when Ally and Jackson Maine first perform together onstage still stirs me. The stakes of the moment, the delight on his face at seeing her talent on display, her panicky body language despite her commanding, primal scream—all of it adds up to be an iconic encapsulation of raw human triumph. It seems impossible that—even 30 years from now—hearing that snippet of audio would carry any less emotional significance.
Surrey: The lead-up to, and the performance of, “Shallow.” It’s a thrilling spectacle that left me covered in goosebumps. If anything, A Star Is Born reaches its peak a little early with this song, because nothing tops that moment.
Dobbins: It turns out that pushing “Shallow” so aggressively has a purpose beyond great memes: If you’re familiar enough with the song, Ally’s first performance is like the moment when a beloved musician finally plays their hit song in concert. It’s an electric scene; no wonder they put it in the trailer.
Herman: The thing you don’t get from the audio-only version of “Shallow” is just how much acting both stars are doing to sell you on the emotional story being told. The way Cooper looks adoringly at his love interest’s breakthrough moment, understanding that gazes are 75 percent of any good romance; Gaga’s intoxicating mixture of sheepishness, resolve, growing confidence, and disbelief. As a pop song, it’s oddly structured, but as a scene in a movie, it unfolds exactly the way it needs to for these characters to have their moment.
Ryan: The first live performance of “Shallow,” because it was bravura shit, despite the pure unadulterated fantasy element. Seriously, let’s break this down: You pay, all in, with tickets and drinks and parking/rideshare/babysitting whatever, at least a hundred bucks a throw for Jackson Maine tickets. He rocks, you roll, it’s encore time. You scream: PLEASE, FATHER JEFF MISTY TWEEDY FOLLOWILL, PLAY MY FAVORITE SONG THAT YOU DELIBERATELY HELD BACK FOR THIS VERY MOMENT! And this beardo brings out a stranger to sing a song no one has ever heard before? It was one thing for the Dead to do that in 1972. Everyone was on acid. This is 2018. Those people in the crowd during “Shallow” weren’t filming Ally, they were FURIOUSLY HAILING A LYFT TO GTFO.
Gallagher: The opening 15 minutes are magic. Some people go skydiving for thrills. Others wrestle alligators. I prefer to watch Bradley Cooper stumble into a drag bar and fall in love with Lady Gaga.
Safon: When the dog was introduced. Obviously.
Gruttadaro: There’s a three-way tie between Sam Elliott literally telling Bradley Cooper “You stole my voice,” Bradley Cooper rubbing a donut on Lady Gaga’s face for what felt like 12 hours, and Jackson Maine COOKING HIS DOG A STEAK AS A PARTING GIFT (peak emotional manipulation that I’m not mad about at all).
Zoladz: The entire first hour, and/or any scene involving award-winning good boy Charlie “the Dog” Cooper.
Baumann: Jackson blurting out to Bobby that he’d idolized him all along, slamming the door and running away, while Bobby turns his head to back out of the driveway with tears in his eyes. That was like experiencing the entire 250-year American cultural backlog of stifled male affection in one big gulp.
3. What was your least favorite moment of the movie?
Gruttadaro: Probably the very unbelievable fact that, after roughly 20 gins, Jackson Maine was physically capable of having sex.
Bereznak: I loved ASIB’s relentless, whirlwind pace. But paired with a slightly complicated plot point about how Jack’s older brother handled the grave site of their father, it made it harder for me to fully parse their confrontation over the matter. I would’ve loved just a liiiittle bit more backstory about Bobby Maine’s failed singing career (maybe a passing reference to an old single, or a piece of merchandise?) before seeing that argument play out.
Zoladz: Anything involving Ally’s “pop star” makeover, during which Lady Gaga was for some reason styled to look like Tori Amos shopping at Forever 21 (a sartorial insult to everyone mentioned in that sentence).
Baumann: Wouldn’t someone have stopped Jackson—who was not only so drunk he pissed his pants, but also in that “Oh yeah, sure, I’ll go with whoever I can lean on” state of drunkenness—from reaching the stage at the Grammys?
Herman: That parking lot scene was painful. I can suspend quite a bit of disbelief in the name of a good melodrama, but buying that a blackout drunk musician would respond to 30 seconds of half-baked spoken word with an awestruck “holy shit?” Spell broken.
Dobbins: [whispers] The Sam Elliott confrontation didn’t really do it for me, and somewhat undermined the rest of his performance. We don’t need a full origin story!
Surrey: JACKSON MAINE LEAVING A GIANT STEAK FOR HIS SWEET DOG BEFORE COMMITTING SUICIDE. I cried a lot. Additional points deducted for the “I just wanted to take another look at ya” meme being rendered extremely depressing and no longer enjoyable after seeing the movie.
Ryan: I know why they tacked on the very “My Heart Will Go On”/“I Will Always Love You” ballad at the end, but it felt out of place with the naturalism of the movie. Also, Jackson’s parting gift to Ally was a song about how she should never love again?
Safon: Any and all moments with Ally’s manager. I get that his character is supposed to be unlikable but he was downright grating.
Gallagher: Not a huge fan of the scene where the manager tells Bradley to stay away. Not because the manager was a massive asshole but because Bradley’s white textured linen shirt was a super tough choice.
4. Grade Bradley Cooper’s performance, as an actor and a director.
Zoladz: A- for acting; B+ for directing (a few points deducted for the pacing in the second half feeling a little off).
Gallagher: Bradley, as a director, blew me away. I particularly enjoyed how he displayed the chaos of celebrity. The energy in some of these backstage or party scenes was so overwhelming with people and noise, it was almost stressful. But despite all the distraction, your focal point was always on Jackson and Ally. Incredible stuff.
As for the acting, I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be exclusively speaking like Bradley Cooper in this movie for the next four years of my life.
Ryan: Best actor; very good director.
Bereznak: As an actor, he gets an A+ for giving us a face so toasted it resembled a dried animal hide, a voice so gravelly I’d wondered how much Arizona sand he’d accidentally swallowed in that motorcycle scene, and that luscious, highly improbable mane. Not only did Cooper play a believable alcoholic rock star, he convinced the audience to fall in love and empathize with one. Relatedly, this is the most attractive Cooper has ever been in my eyes. It is my sincere hope that he keeps his voice low and beard full until the end of time.
Director-wise, he gets an A-. I was impressed that ASIB resisted the temptation to lean on stereotypical devices to display the overwhelming feeling of fame, or the cruelty of the gossip industrial complex. The movie was focused on illustrating the significance of Jack’s relationship with Ally. Did that mean a few too many close-ups of just their faces? Maybe! But small details like the fake eyebrows, the cake-fights, the nose jokes, and the bathtub cradling made them irresistible as a couple. (As a budding ASIB scholar, I was impressed to discover that some of these weird, seemingly random elements were cribbed from past versions of the movie and very effectively repurposed!) Bottom line is that the dude made it feel real and believable and also a little bit like being high on (and coming down from) ecstasy.
Herman: I respect any director so willing to give the people what they want: a faceless shot of his own unclothed torso, mid-butt injection. (Also: I dislike Cooper’s public persona. That this movie made me forget that entirely is a testament to his talents.)
Gruttadaro: My friend Brad (when you become famous people start calling you by your full name, I’m told, and I’m no longer gonna do that to my friend Brad) gets an A+ as an actor for doing that “if dusty leather could talk” voice and pulling it off. He gets a B+ as a director for the mere fact that A Star Is Born isn’t a complete joke—but I do think he sold Lady Gaga’s character a tad short.
Surrey: A and A-minus, respectively. Cooper’s directorial debut was stellar, though some of the credit ought to go to cinematographer Matthew Libatique (who, weirdly enough, was also the cinematographer for this weekend’s Venom). But, holy cow, Cooper totally embodied the increasingly washed Jackson Maine. Even the music is good—he sounds like an actual rock star!
Baumann: 9/10 as an actor—one point off for Coop (I call him Coop now since we’re buddies) botching the accent. 8/10 as a director—I thought it was affecting and pretty to look at, but knowing it was Coop’s first movie, I paid way closer to the direction than I would have otherwise, so I don’t know if it was really heavy-handed or that’s just how I was looking at it.
Dobbins: Actor: A. I’m on record as a Bradley Cooper skeptic—he’s irritating, angry, and closed off in pretty much every film he’s done, even when it’s the point—and I found this performance astonishing. The charisma, the warmth, the messiness: he’s a full-on rock star and a movie star, which are not always compatible skill sets ... which brings us to:
Director: B+. The second half of the movie isn’t perfect, but Bradley Cooper saw his own performance in himself, and then shot it to make it real. It’s a fascinating commentary on his personality, and a fairly undeniable demonstration of his directing skill.
5. Finish the sentence: “Lady Gaga was …”
Safon: … in her element.
Surrey: … a believable pop star with a career that seemed way less interesting than Lady Gaga’s.
Zoladz: … so good! She is clearly playing the long game with her career, and over the next decade or so I believe we will have to come up with a new word for her many pop-cultural achievements. Is there an EGOT for winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony, performing at the Super Bowl halftime show, and also having a performance artist vomit on you during a Doritos-sponsored event? I’ll start working on the acronym.
Bereznak: … effortless, electrifying, and a better country singer than she was on her most recent album.
Gruttadaro: … unbelievable any time she was on the stage; less good any time she was off it.
Gallagher: … made for this role? Is that too cliché? I don’t think anyone else on the planet could’ve pulled this off. And before the weekend, I never would’ve referred to myself as a “Little Monster,” but now …. rawr, I guess.
Dobbins: … feisty, but not theater kid-y. I appreciated it.
Ryan: … a great underdog; a good pop star.
Baumann: … fantastic, and her performance got better as the movie went on.
Herman: … vindicated! Suck it, skeptics; Stefani can perform anything, including unvarnished naturalism.
6. Who do you think is more deserving of an acting Oscar: Cooper or Gaga?
Gruttadaro: My friend Brad deserves it more, frankly; that guy [extremely Jackson Maine voice] dug deep into his fucking soul and had legs.
Herman: If there were an Oscar for acting through singing, Gaga should win it. Because there isn’t, Cooper takes the award.
Ryan: I think Cooper is probably doing a little bit of Kristofferson karaoke, but I found him totally captivating.
Gallagher: I think it’s Bradley, but that’s a really tough choice. The easier choice: Dave Chappelle for Best Arms in a Motion Picture.
Baumann: We’ll see how strong the competition is on both races, but I’d give it to Gaga. It feels a little ironic to say this, given Gaga’s whole [waves hands in the air] thing over the past decade, but she felt authentic and nuanced, while Coop—who was excellent, make no mistake—felt more like a character, behind a mask at times.
Zoladz: Cooper had the showier role, and he was reminding you in every frame that he was doing the work. He was great, but I tend to prefer subtler performances, and I think what Gaga did was, quietly, even more difficult to pull off. Also, this was her first lead role in a movie! I would be happy if either of them won, but I’m especially rooting for Gaga.
Dobbins: Cooper blows her out of the water, sorry.
Surrey: Lady Gaga earns a slight nudge for this being her first major film role, but both are deserving of Oscar nominations.
Bereznak: This is a moot question, because obviously they’re already in love, and will leave their respective spouses so they can get married, move in together, and live happily ever after—at which point they will merge their awards onto one shelf and lose track of who won what.
7. What was your favorite moment in which the movie crossed over into the real world of celebrity?
Ryan: The impressively detailed chronicling of Saturday Night Live coming back from a commercial break.
Safon: Alec Baldwin’s cameo! How can I get Alec Baldwin to cameo in my life?
Zoladz: “Ladies and gentlemen … Ally.” —Alec Baldwin
Gruttadaro: I loved how well this movie captured the extremely true fact that every single Saturday Night Live performance sucks.
Bereznak: Alec Baldwin saying the words “Ladies and gentlemen, Ally” on Saturday Night Live, which led me down a deep rabbit hole of first SNL performances from so-called “industry plants.”
Gallagher: I once had to work a tech conference and the performers were ZZ Top, Sugar Ray, Ludacris, Mark Hoppus, Ozzy Osbourne, and Macy Gray. It was so lame and jarring but the people who ran the conference paid so much money it was practically impossible for the artists to refuse. All that’s to say, I appreciated them showing that weird underground reality of the music business in 2018.
Surrey: The moments when Jackson Maine was approached by people—or when the cashier at a pharmacy snapped a photo of him without his consent—were fascinating little dives into celebrity status and how awful it must be. To paraphrase Bradley Cooper in that Los Angeles Times profile of Lady Gaga: It’s all artifice.
Baumann: The Brandi Carlile cameo! Let’s do another remake in 10 years with Brandi Carlile in the Jackson Maine role!
Dobbins: If I may, I have a complaint to file instead: The meta-Gaga narrative is genius, and the “big nose” references are very sweet, but positioning Ally as a lesser Ariana Grande was condescending to everyone involved. It’s not surprising that Bradley Cooper missed the poptimism wagon, but the narrative still works if you let Ally be a confident, visionary, Gaga-like (or even Grande-like) pop star. Also, did not need an Alec Baldwin cameo, thanks.
Herman: WILL THE REAL DRAG RACE STANS WHO SCREAMED FOR WILLAM AND SHANGELA PLEASE STAND UP?!
8. Pick one: Andrew Dice Clay or Sam Elliott.
Bereznak: Andrew Dice Clay. To be fair, “irritable, bitter older brother/manager” is a much less likable role than “Italian single dad who has always believed in his daughter,” but Clay (and his band of drivers) added some much-needed levity into the movie, and also made me tear up a little during his post-Grammy conversation with Ally.
Gruttadaro: All due respect to Andrew Dice Clay, but Sam Elliott frantically pulling out of the driveway after Jack told him that he was the one he admired is forever plastered in my mind, and will likely make 99 percent of the men who see this movie cry.
Ryan: UNCLE SAM.
Baumann: Both were really good, but Andrew Dice Clay didn’t have any high that even approached the driveway scene.
Zoladz: This is incredibly difficult, but I’m going to say Sam Elliott. (Although shout-out to the moment when Andrew Dice Clay is pointing out how many views Ally’s video has on YouTube.) His speech at the end about how Jackson would say that music is just 12 notes is the Michael Stuhlbarg-in-Call Me By Your Name speech of this year. I hope he’s nominated for an Oscar.
Surrey: Let’s get a nomination for Sam Elliott! (Also, shout-out to A Star Is Born for providing a painstakingly detailed explanation for how Sam Elliott and Bradley Cooper are brothers.)
Herman: Without Sam Elliott, Bradley Cooper’s performance wouldn’t exist, so he wins by default.
Dobbins: Andrew Dice Clay, no contest. A voice like Sinatra!
Gallagher: This is what I want to do to whoever is responsible for this question:
9. What are your thoughts on the ending?
Zoladz: Emotionally, it was perfect—spitting you out into the world before you’ve had a chance to stop crying or fix your mascara. (The ladies room mirror after my screening was CROWDED.) Logically, I wanted a little more closure about what happens to Ally after Jackson, and what sort of an identity she is able to build for herself when she is something other than his wife, but this is a movie that prioritizes emotion over logic throughout. It couldn’t have ended any other way.
Gallagher: Memorable. I’ll never forget how many people were crying in the theater. The entire experience sticks with you.
Bereznak: My critic’s mind understands that Jack’s suicide was a poignant culmination of all the inadequacy and guilt that he had felt both in his early life, and in his marriage with Ally. But the superfan in me is upset that you would even make me relieve that heartbreaking moment by referencing it in a survey question.
Gruttadaro: I don’t know that it was all that earned? The second half of the movie flies by and covers so much time—if Ally performed on the season finale of SNL, which airs in May, and then won a Grammy, that means a 15-minute section of the movie covers nine months—that it feels more like a fairy tale than a depiction of real life. And so yeah, it’s heartbreaking, but it’s also blatant movie bullshit.
Baumann: It felt a little Return of the King-y, but by the end of the movie I was just so emotionally exhausted I needed a break.
Ryan: I really want to know if Cooper shot a confrontation between Ally and Rez, especially since he gets mileage out of Ally torturing herself for something we, the audience, know isn’t her fault.
Herman: I wasn’t sure if the movie wanted us to agree with Jack that the kind of commercial pop Ally starts making is incompatible with authenticity, and therefore true art. Then it had his death motivate her to go back to her roots—literally, thanks to the surprise reappearance of her natural hair color. Yikes!
Surrey: Sorry, we can’t talk about it. I don’t have any tissues on me.
Dobbins: That cut to Bradley Cooper at the piano wrecked me. This film is manipulative, and it very successfully manipulated me.
11. I just wanted to take another look at you. (Not a question here; just feel free to discuss any lingering thoughts you have about A Star Is Born.)
Zoladz: IF “SHALLOW” DOESN’T WIN THE OSCAR FOR BEST ORIGINAL SONG I’M MOVING TO THE MOON.
Herman: Did anyone else think it was weird the quintessential Hollywood story does not have a discernible location for 80 percent of the movie? Just checking.
Bereznak: As powerful as “Shallow” is and will always be, it’s not my favorite Ally song in the movie. That award goes to “Always Remember Us That Way,” which Jack encourages her to play at the piano while they’re on tour. It’s a touching, personal tribute to them as a couple, and—in my humble opinion—would’ve made for a better closing song than “I’ll Never Love Again.”
Also: It seems, at first, like this film is set in New York. The drag bar feels very Lower East Side and I got the impression that Ally and her father’s driving operation were situated in Queens or something. But then Jack sweeps her up in his motorcycle and they go to Arizona. That was all slightly confusing.
Also: Charlie is a very good dog.
Baumann: There’s a scene in Mad Men where Lane tries to kill himself by running the engine of his Jaguar in his garage, but the car—which is itself the symbol of how his combination of inadequacy and overambition ruined his career—won’t start. I think about that scene almost every single day. Since the moment I left the theater, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how Jackson cooked a gigantic steak for his dog before he went into the garage to hang himself. That’s going to be the part of the movie that sticks with me forever.
Gruttadaro: Charlie the dog had to be told it was OK for him to eat the steak—I just don’t want anyone to forget that. What a good boy.
Safon: Everything about the Dave Chappelle scene needs explaining. How does he know Cooper is lying in the lawn when he would’ve been almost entirely hidden by shrubs? Who knows with such immediacy where the pliers are in their kitchen? Why does nobody question Cooper when he’s gone for what feels like 10 minutes? Chappelle and Cooper know each other how? Ally seriously marries Jack on the same day as she tells him she’s not going to go and find him the next time he disappears? THE SAME DAY???
Gallagher: It’s hilarious to think about the concert experience of some of these Jackson Maine fans. Like, he’s someone’s favorite artist and they probably paid a lot of money to get great seats. Then, when it came time for an encore, he brought his girlfriend out to sing an original song while he accompanied her on guitar. Then he left. That was it. Could you imagine? I just secretly wish they would’ve shown the house lights coming up and the crowd looking around at each other like, “What the fuck, man?”