“A Star Is Born,” the Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper rock drama, has finally hit theaters. But I don’t want to talk about the movie (which many people are raving about and is, as you read this, poised to become one of the big winners at the box office this weekend).
What I want to talk about is what sparked the weeks of Oscar-buzzy discussion and perfectly pitched memes that finally culminated with the film’s release. What I want to talk about is the simple, perfect and extremely viral trailer for “A Star Is Born.”
The first trailer for “A Star Is Born” dropped on June 6. Currently, it has over 10 million views. Subsequent trailers (including the “Shallow” music video) have been little more than rehashed versions of the first, consisting of the same flickering images that weave a perfect mini-narrative. There’s Coachella, a ruddy-faced Bradley Cooper, Dave Chapelle out of nowhere, Lady Gaga emerging from the shadows ― “I don’t sing my own songs” ― Gaga writing, Gaga crying. And of course, crucially, this exchange:
“I just wanted to take another look at you.”
The “A Star Is Born” trailer deftly toes the line that all trailers must: It shows the viewer essentially all the movie yet nothing about the movie at all. It is a product of and a preview of its film, but it could be appraised as a great little piece of cinema on its own. After all, filmmakers almost never edit their own trailers (hence the occasional unintentional spoilers in them). Instead, trailers are usually cut by separate editors long before the film is finished, meaning that the preview has a unique identity ― a film outside the film.
“A Star Is Born” is a remake, a fourth version, so even those who have never seen its predecessors are at least tangentially aware of its premise, freeing up the trailer from familiar promotional flourishes. Fans didn’t need ominous third-person narration to understand the basic story, that Big Star Bradley Cooper falls for little nobody Lady Gaga and her career takes off in the process. What we learn in the trailer is that their romance carries such a cosmic intensity that it can be communicated only through furrowed brows and primal screams, huge toothy grins and snippets of tender hand holding, tears and broken glass and punching.
It’s entertaining not because it feels like a short version of the movie’s story but because of its obvious and unabashed desire to be an event before the event. There’s Gaga, finally, as struggling artist Ally (in the part previously played by Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand)! There’s Cooper, finally, as her gristly love interest, Jackson Maine (in the part previously played by Fredric March, James Mason and Kris Kristofferson)! Even as the trailer makes us yearn for more of their over-the-top intensity, it is also, in and of itself, a fix. With each watch, you get a hit of emotion, ranging from genuine sentimentality to ironic, vehement zeal.
People turned nearly every moment in the trailer into memes — everything from Gaga’s facial expressions to “I just wanted to take another look at you” to her guttural and emotional “HAAA AH AH AH” during the film’s centerpiece song, “The Shallow.” There are video remakes and mashups (including one with Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy that features a remarkably well-timed jaw drop).
There’s an entire Twitter account dedicated solely to these memes. The popular celebrity gossip podcast “Who Weekly” dedicated a pseudo-segment to them, titled “Bradley Cooper Presents: A Podcast Segment Is Born Starring Lady Gaga.”
Taken together, the cheeky and overly effusive tweets from critics and regular filmgoers alike ― posted weeks before most people were able to see the film ― exhibit a kind of praise that’s disingenuous and genuine at the same time. Upon seeing the trailer, you want the eventual film to succeed so badly, but your appetite is also sated by its concentration of campy, so-good-it’s-bad drama.
Like the trailer, the press tour happening in the background of the preview’s release ― on red carpets in Venice in August and in Toronto in September ― was a movie-outside-the-movie experience. Gaga and Bradley cried and laughed together in front of cameras, made a competition of out-complimenting each other in interviews and generally played up the Oscar buzz surrounding the movie with what could be identified as beautiful desperation. It is desperation, but desperation so pure and well-meaning that it played as endearing. Just like the trailer for “A Star Is Born.”
Maybe before seeing the teaser, you thought that the art of the movie trailer was dead and that, after watching it, Gaga and Cooper had brought it back. But the “A Star Is Born” trailer isn’t really a revolution within the art form. (Gaga’s superstardom is obviously a huge part of what made it so popular to begin with.) What’s interesting here isn’t so much the art of the trailer but the art of manufacturing this kind of response to it.
Studios and production companies test trailers with audiences before they come out, in an effort to gauge interest in any given edit. This was likely the case with the “A Star Is Born” trailer, suggesting there’s an alchemy to creating moments that stick, that leave us wanting more. But there was something about the “A Star Is Born” meming phenomenon that seemed, at least, to operate outside the calculated Hollywood machine that the movie itself critiques.
Can you really manufacture the sort of ironic and unironic frenzy that bubbled up this summer? Or were we in the midst of one of those magical consensus moments, before critics could rip apart the movie’s tropes, that happen only once in a blue moon?
You certainly can’t manufacture the moment, in any given theater on opening weekend, of hundreds of people cheering when Bradley Cooper finally says, “I just wanted to take another look at you.” Although I’m sure Hollywood will try.