The first trailer for “A Star Is Born” is out and it stars Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.
It’s the wail that launched a thousand tweets.
A third of the way through “A Star Is Born” – in theaters today – diffident waitress Ally (Lady Gaga) reluctantly takes the stage with country megastar Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) to perform “Shallow,” a power ballad the lovebirds co-wrote that has become the movie’s unofficial theme song. Visibly nervous at first, but cheered on by Jackson and the roaring crowd, Ally gradually gains confidence and launches into a guttural howl in the duet’s bridge, effectively becoming a “star” in that very moment.
It’s a euphoric feat of vocal gymnastics that never fails to thrill, no matter how many times you might have seen the trailer or countless memes it’s inspired. But “Shallow” is also only one of 17 original songs recorded and written by Gaga and Cooper for the show-biz drama, with the help of music heavyweights including Diane Warren, Mark Ronson, Lukas Nelson and Jason Isbell. How could the rest of the soundtrack ever hope to reach those heights – or, in this case, depths?
The good news is Gaga and Cooper are more than up to the task. Although Jackson’s purist ghost would undoubtedly scoff at the very suggestion, “A Star Is Born” features a slew of other potential hits for its two stars, whose “Shallow” has enjoyed a nearly uninterrupted run at No. 1 on iTunes since its release more than a week ago.
Gaga, in particular, eclipses her own “Shallow” performance on a number of tracks: “Is That Alright?” is Ally’s swoon-worthy ode to Jackson, painting an evocative picture of their whirlwind romance as Gaga deftly alternates between tender storyteller and throaty power belter. “I want you at the end of my life,” she passionately declares in the chorus. “Wanna see your face when I fall with grace at the moment I die.”
The piano-driven “Always Remember Us This Way” ranks up there with 2009’s “Speechless” and 2013’s “Dope” as one of Gaga’s best ballads, and her loungey take on Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose” is at once stirring and sexy.
And with “I’ll Never Love Again,” the film’s devastating emotional closer, Gaga gets her own Whitney Houston moment, powering through a formidable number about love and loss with searing vulnerability and grace. It’s a transcendent achievement that could single-handedly net the singer-turned-actress her first Oscar, reminding us yet again that she’s one of the best vocalists right now in any genre, pop or otherwise.
Although Jackson isn’t afforded any of the types of barn-storming songs that Ally is, Cooper proves himself to be a musical dynamo, snarling his way through pummeling stadium-rock anthems “Black Eyes” and “Alibi,” and gently crooning on wistful album highlight “Maybe It’s Time.” Even though, as Jackson learns, his bluesy brand of country-rock may be going out of fashion in the mainstream, you never second-guess that this character could have once inspired breathless adoration from fans and critics, largely thanks to Cooper’s staunch dedication to learning singing and guitar.
Depending on your perspective, the “A Star Is Born” soundtrack is both hindered and aided by including large chunks of dialogue in between songs, helping fill in the narrative blanks for those who may not have seen the movie or simply wish to relive it, while also bloating the album’s run time to 1 hour, 10 minutes.
The soundtrack’s blandest moments, at least somewhat intentionally, are when Ally abandons her “authentic” self for a meticulously manufactured pop persona, releasing vapid singles “Heal Me,” “Why Did You Do That?” and “Hair Body Face.” Although moviegoers are meant to side with Jackson in bemoaning Ally’s soulless new direction, the songs are surprisingly forgettable and out of step with recent music trends, with Gaga’s voice overpowering their thin, dancey production.
Even still, the album as a whole is proof that “Shallow” was no fluke. Not only does it affirm a new music star is born in Cooper, but it also will make you want to take another look at Gaga and her increasingly impressive career.
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