Blu-ray Review: A Star is Born: Encore Edition
Just released to home audiences in February, A Star is Born is already getting the pseudo Director’s Cut treatment with its Encore Edition — perhaps looking to capitalize on the duet by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga at the Academy Awards. Unlike the original version, the Encore is only available on Blu-ray and contains roughly a dozen minutes of new footage. It was one of our favourites from 2018, so let’s see how the extended cut fares.
Following yet another concert, country musician Jackson Maine (Cooper) decides he’d like to go out for a drink and ends up at a drag bar. While there, a woman named Ally (Gaga) performs, and Jackson is awed by her ability. He goes backstage to meet her, and the two of them end up hanging out for the rest of the night where Ally continues to dazzle Jackson with her ability to write songs on the spot.
Jackson decides to invite Ally to his next show, and after initially refusing she relents and is flown on a private plane. Once there, Jackson calls her on stage to perform a duet of a song she wrote the night before. A recording finds its way to YouTube, and Ally quickly becomes famous. She starts to do more and more stuff with Jackson on stage, while off of it the two quickly fall in love. After one show Ally is approach by record producer Rez (Rafi Gavron), who offers to sign her.
As Ally’s career is taking off, Jackson begins to struggle with dependency issues (alcohol and drugs), a strained relationship with older brother Bobby (Sam Elliot) and mixed feelings about Ally’s ascent into stardom. Even in the midst of this, the two get married and remain in love, but as Jackson’s alcoholism continues to negatively affect Ally’s career the strain becomes greater.
Before we dive in here, let’s do a little housekeeping. As noted, the Encore Edition is only on Blu-ray, though the disc does contain both versions of the film. There are no new extras, either, so everything that’s different is in the extended cut itself.
So what do you get? Well, primarily you get extended and/or new songs. That starts in the opening scene where Jackson’s performance now includes a second verse, giving you more lyrics but losing the really cool, establishing cut from the original. That’s pretty much the same vibe we got from the second notable addition, a longer interaction between Jackson and Ally in the parking lot. Yes, you’re getting more, but it also speaks to how crisply edited the theatrical version was.
You also get more of Jackson and Ally interacting. They write a song on an empty stage — a shot (which is also seen above) you’ll likely recognize — and sing an impromptu duet on the tour bus, spend time in the recording studio and so on. While those are all fine, it’s the scene between Jackson and Marlon Williams rehearsing for the Roy Orbison tribute that stands as the best addition. It’s extremely well acted, feels perfectly on brand and delves more into Jackson’s state of mind at being brushed aside for a younger singer. That should’ve never been cut.
Let’s start at the top. Both Cooper and Gaga are excellent in their starring roles to the point that you fully believe they are those characters. To that end, there’s no doubt some of Ally’s struggles came from Gaga’s own experiences — she confirms as much in the supplemental materials — such as the size of her nose. Cooper is great as Jackson, too, showing legitimate skill as a musician and being every bit the functional alcoholic seen in so many “behind the music” documentaries.
Despite not being our preferred genre of music, the stuff that was created for A Star is Born is actually quite good. That’s certainly not easy, and it’s the Achilles’ heel of many films based on fictional music groups or singers. Here we found ourselves actually thinking about the lyrics and even quietly singing a line or two.
We really enjoyed the way things were filmed and presented, particularly the concert performances. There aren’t any tricks here. These are the real people on stage in front of real crowds with a cameraman or two circling them as they perform. That’s it. Cooper also uses a lot of unique framing and angles during the quieter times, and the result is a film that’s visually interesting from start to finish.
Casting Sam Elliot as Cooper’s older brother was a stroke of genius, as the long-haired country crooner version of Bradley Cooper is reminiscent of Roadhouse-era Elliot. He gets some of the film’s more emotional sequences and handles them beautifully. Dave Chappelle and Andrew Dice Clay also do good work in minor but important roles — and wow, does mid-40s Dave look different than The Chappelle Show version.
Although we really enjoyed the film overall, we felt the ending was a little too predictable and done to maximize an emotional response. Yes, things like that do happen, but Jackson’s spiral down seems to happen too quickly, and the idea that one catty conversation with Ally’s agent was enough to push him over the edge seemed a bridge too far. It also felt like Rez was really exposing himself in the process as he could’ve easily been fired as a result if word got back to Ally.
THE BONUS FEATURES
There’s nothing new here, leaving the 30-minute “making of” feature to comprise the entirety of the non-musical extras. There’s also some good tidbits about how the film was made and the preparation that went into creating it.
A Star is Born: Encore Edition is basically more of what people wanted, and since the Blu-ray includes both versions there’s no reason to get the original (unless you want 4K). If you already bought it, you’re not missing a lot so only those that really love the film need consider a second dip.