DIR: Bradley Cooper • WRI: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters • DOP: Matthew Libatique • ED: Jay Cassidy • DES: Karen Murphy • PRO: Bradley Cooper, Bill Gerber, Lynette Howell Taylor, Jon Peters, Todd Phillips • CAST: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott
In his directorial debut, Bradley Cooper turns his attention towards the third remake of A Star Is Born, which was originally released in 1937, with a remake starring Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954, and then a Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson-starring remake in 1976. 2018’s version stars Cooper himself as country blues singer Jackson Maine, who drinks his way through his live performances and life itself. En route home from a performance, he runs out of drink and stops at the nearest bar. There he sees Ally (played by the artistically-ambidextrous Lady Gaga) emerge behind the curtains to perform a rousing rendition of ‘La Vie en Rose’, which immediately grasps his attention.
Ally and Jackson then go off into the night, where Ally is taken aback by Jackson’s fame, and the public intrusion associated with fame. She punches a selfie-seeking policeman and Ally and Jackson run to a supermarket, and with a bag of frozen peas on her wrist, Jackson explores Ally’s musical aspirations. “I think you might be a songwriter” Jackson says to Ally, much like a ‘manic pixie dream boy’. The pair’s relationship blossoms musically and romantically and Jackson’s career has been boosted and Ally’s career has emphatically kick-started. However, Jackson’s career and health declines. His tinnitus worsens, he continues to seek solace in alcohol and drugs, and his older brother/manager Bobby (Sam Elliott) quits picking up the pieces and goes to work “with Willie”. Ally’s career has been her dream, yet she and others must resolve Jackson’s descent for their relationship and his music to continue.
The first highlight of A Star Is Born is the chemistry between Ally and Jackson. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper possess a dynamic that easily translates on-screen, which is crucial in this film, especially when the duo are both a musical and romantic duo. The chemistry then assists in the performances of the impressive songs, especially ‘Shallow’ and the closing number ‘I’ll Never Love Again’. Cooper is quick to introduce these protagonists, and their respective meet cute moment, and it’s effective for the running of the plot.
With both Ally and Jackson, the film offers two subtextual glimpses into the music industry. Jackson is an established artist whose spotlight is fading; Ally is the dilettante signed to a music label who discovers her individualism is outnumbered by the industry’s design by committee approach. Ally’s A&R manager Rez (Rafi Gavron), who’s always dressed in black, rejects her ideas and the mass music industry drags her into homogeneity, such as asking her to dye her hair blonde or the cliched backing dancer troupes. Jackson can foresee the path she’s being led down, and for someone who initially says she couldn’t ‘make it’, and as a new artist exposed to rapid success, Ally shelves her previous musical and personal morals. Her songs as a solo artist are far weaker than her songs with Jackson and these forgettable songs typify the homogenous nature of the industry’s output.
The film also gives an exploration of the humanity of these musicians within the music industry. We see Jackson in the first act and the trappings associated with his fame. He can’t go to a bar without being recognised and he can’t even shop without a cashier taking indiscreet pictures of him. Ally’s introduction to him presents an opportunity to see the domesticity of these characters, especially when they are presented in an almost cinéma vérité style that’s aided by Darren Aronofsky’s regular cinematographer Matthew Libatique. Plot lines such as Ally introducing a dog within her and Jackson’s home allows the film to present these people with associated notoriety as regular humans living an atypical human life and you almost forget about their celebrity status.
Without spoiling the film, A Star Is Born concludes with a performance from Ally that is simply stunning. The song encapsulates the emotional core of the film and is edited in a way that will result in the shedding of tears. Bradley Cooper has managed to assemble an utter powerhouse of a film that feels like a gritty La La Land, or the older kid John Carney’s Begin Again was told not to hang around with. From the supporting cast, including Ally’s hilarious father and his friends, to the songs, the film delivers on many levels. This is Cooper at his best, acting as well as directing, and it’s encouraging when it’s his first film as director.
Still though, this film is just as much Gaga’s as it is Cooper’s. Her stardom was conceived years ago but this film hosts a different Lady Gaga. Ally is a raw authentic character and Gaga’s experience in the music industry successfully humanises the character. She takes you on a journey with Jackson, as Cooper does with Ally, and A Star Is Born is one journey with so many emotions working in perfect harmony that should not be missed.