A filmmaker’s most taxing challenge is putting the audience at ease, while ensuring his expertly crafted world is convincing. Making his directorial debut, Bradley Cooper audaciously opens A Star is Born by stepping out in front of us, the expectant cinephile, and a stadium full of folk music enthusiasts, and continues to effortlessly dance his fingers up and down his guitar. The pill popping, alcohol swigging, Neil Young-inspired performance translates into “hey, sit back and relax, I’ve got this.” Alright Bradley, we’re convinced.
He plays Jackson Maine, a grizzled and deeply damaged country-fried rock star, who stumbles across Lady Gaga’s Ally, who, performing at a drag bar, intoxicates him with her rendition of La Vie En Rose. Dressed in drag juxtaposed against Cooper’s unstable, yet earnest Jackson, is pretty perfect. Though, Cooper admits he was influenced by the Martin Scorsese short, Life Lessons, the scene plants the seed for the film’s thrilling love story.
During the film’s earlier moments, Gaga allows herself to be vulnerable – competently so – while Cooper, often tropic, swiftly redefines the role of leading man by forgoing the jealousy arc for a more layered and telling perspective on a romantic relationship. And that may be the most impressive feat of A Star is Born, a movie which has been remade … well a lot.
Throughout, Cooper flexes his cinematographic muscles with a handful of incredibly effective shots. From a deeply personal and romantic gradual close-up of the characters staring in awe while they sing, to encapsulating the inner turmoil of a person struggling with addiction.
Of these, the latter is captured in the most emotionally punishing scene of the film. Cooper’s Jackson is wobbly and partially drooling during a live performance, but once the music kicks in, his body responds and begins chopping it up to Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman, showing even though he’s utterly consumed by his addiction, his talent remains undimmed. Scenes like these truly emphasise the conflict with which the characters, and the audience, struggle and whether to demonise Jackson or stand by him.
Of course, with A Star is Born being the ultimate Hollywood cocktail of acting heavy hitters, provocative storytelling and Oscar buzz, it’s not without its fair share of cheddar. As Gaga’s Ally begins garnering attention, a villainous leech begins whispering in her ear. The friction between Jackson and Ally provides enough drama, without shoehorning a clichéd British fairytale villain driving a wedge between them.
As the film progresses, the soundtrack begins to shift and transform, based on the character’s motivations and mental state.
Since A Star is Born deals with various levels of addiction, and the unyielding, oddly supernatural power of music, its songs need to exude that raw honesty. And with Lady Gaga at the helm of songwriting duty, it succeeds.
From the swaggering Black Eyes to the crowd-pleasing Shallow, from the particularly Gaga-esque Always Remember Us This Way, to the emotionally gnawing, I’ll Never Love Again; the entire album could have been listed here.
Both leading actors, obviously cognisant of their real-life counterparts, swap roles. Their narrative – where one star is falling, and another is rising, both crossing paths – lends itself to an unexpected, erotic and satisfying chemistry. Though the music is the catalyst for their connection, the tenderness of their union is at the film’s core. It allows the audience to believe that after bad things have happened, they return home and fall into each other’s arms and when they’re apart, it genuinely feels like they’re torn, and that’s why this iteration works so well.