A Star is Born
Directed by Bradley Cooper. Written by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper and Will Fetters.
Featuring Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliot, Dave Chappelle, Andrew Dice Clay and Rafi Gavron.
Since the turn of the 21st Century, musical movies have been carried on in the Hollywood tradition as per normal. There has, however, been a more noticeable, innovative approach to the form in these latter days. Tim Burton presented a period horror story interspersed with song and dance in 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. John Crowley’s wonderful Once from 2006 told the story of two struggling musicians in modern Dublin through the realistic performances of two actual musician-actors. Last year we marvelled at Damien Chazelle’s La La Land as it beautifully combined staged musical interludes with an engrossing romantic storyline. Even The Greatest Showman from earlier this year dazzled audiences with a carnivale of musical performances and a story inspired by P.T. Barnum’s circus show creations. No doubt these successes were an inspiration to Bradley Cooper’s vision in realising his modern day version of the oft-filmed concept around A Star is Born. One may question the originality of his vision, considering the story has been told several times before, but what surprised me most after watching it was that it did feel undeniably authentic.
Bradley Cooper just flawlessly embodies the fictional character of Jackson Maine – an almost washed-up, substance abusing country rock star who despite his interminable demons, is at his core a gentle soul with a raging thirst for love and happiness. His performance is terribly impressive, mainly because it appears to come out of nowhere. It is very different to the drunkard characters portrayed by James Mason from the 1954 version or Kris Kristofferson from the 1976 version. Cooper brings an entirely different background to the character and takes him on a journey through the craziness of musical popularity in modern day America. He effects a deep passion in the character – you can see this in his intimate body movements, you can hear it in his gravelly voice and you can sense it behind his tortured but gentle eyes. For the viewer this all adds up to an inescapable empathy for his character. Of more considerable note is his ability to play guitar and sing like a true musician. You could well have Bruce Springsteen up there but you don’t. You have Bradley Cooper – that annoying, arrogant guy from The Hangover and Wedding Crashers! For me, that was unexpected. I mean, this guy can really fucking sing. I am sure that he trained long and hard to personify the role, but kudos must be branched forth for his ability to pull it off.
Then there’s Lady Gaga. If you are wondering why this film (note: not meant to be a family-friendly film) is getting the publicity it is, then I think you must consider that one of the most famous and iconic popstars of the modern day is in the lead role. But cynicism on the film’s publicity aside, Lady Gaga does not just show up and be Lady Gaga. She exposes herself to the audience in an acting tour-de-force whilst at the same time demonstrating her otherworldly ability to sing the shit out of any lyrics put in front of her (or even written herself). I mean, what a voice! She plays the role of Ally Campana vividly and with a wonderful humanity. Her character is very likable and relatable, just like Bradley Cooper’s, and she makes it her own from the instant she walks on screen. The relationship between Jackson and Ally of course is fundamental to the story, and by managing the chemistry that they do, both Gaga and Cooper ensures the film’s success. This powerful combination of musical and acting performances then plays into the impact devastation of the storyline. It is what makes the film so extraordinary and beyond the usual dross that comes with certain other family-friendly musicals. In short, this film has guts and it is unafraid to present them to the viewer – again Bradley Cooper’s direction must be commended for this.
But the music makes the film in the end. As much as the story tugs at your passion strings (and sometimes it does chug along a little too lethargically), the musical interludes are thoroughly heartfelt and beautiful. The sounds from the stage as Jackson revs through his guitar and hollars into the microphone, followed by Ally’s extraordinary voice, there is a remarkable feeling that we are actually there on the stage too, in amongst it and being completely engrossed in the sounds and the magic between Jackson and Ally. It is certainly a film that lives up to the hype and deserves all the praise and accolades that continue to pour in for it.
Reviewed by JJ McDermott – Rated 4/5
This is the fourth version of A Star Is Born, a human drama about a rising star, helped to fame by a troubled and fading light in showbiz. It is both inspiring and down-beat. In this latest version, Jackson (“Jack” played by Cooper), a troubled and jaded but popular musician, discovers part-time bar singer Ally (Lady Gaga). He coaxes her on stage at one of his massive live concerts, and gradually she becomes part of his live act, and a romance develops alongside their dual careers. But Jackson is a heavy drinker, into substance abuse and increasingly unreliable. As she rises, he fades. And the emerging differences between them are heightened by her manipulative manager Rez Gavron (played by Rafi Gavron).
The first A Star is Born was a 1937 David O. Selznick film (with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March) about an aspiring actress hoping to make it big in Hollywood. Two more versions followed prior to this latest release; in 1954 (with Judy Garland and James Mason) and 1976 (Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson). And the same basic theme has been taken up with great success in Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight (1952) and more recently in the French film The Artist (2011). I believe there are Bollywood versions also. In all of these films a seasoned actor, comedian or musician discovers a hidden talent of a young woman and helps her to fame as his own career collapses about him. And though he is increasingly chaotic and destructive, he ultimately sacrifices himself to let her shine without him.
This is Cooper’s debut directorial film, and he also co-produced and the co-wrote an excellent and tight script with Eric Roth and Will Fetters, partially based on the final years of Kurt Cobain. Cooper also co-edited the film and wrote some of the music, along with several other musicians. And numerous musicians get small stand-in roles. I noted the New Zealand singer Marlon Williams (singing Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman), who plays a musician called ‘Marlon Williams’. The music is a great strength to the film. All of it was performed live by accomplished performers, and it certainly has the electricity of live music. Cooper is himself a very credible guitarist. The photography is excellent, from multiple angles and numerous long-held portrait shots. The editing is superb, the sound quality is good and the cast are all exceptional. Lady Gaga in her first major film is out-standing, and the chemistry between her and Cooper is delightful and touching.
There are some minor drawbacks though. I found the selfish and manipulative motives of manager Rez to be a touch too stereotyped, and the ending – which is quite down-beat and tragic – is not entirely convincing for me. It is more melodramatic than dramatic. And though the film is initially uplifting, beneath it is the senseless hurt caused by alcohol and substance abuse. I think it is intended to highlight it as an issue, but it does make for an increasingly sad and tormenting second half of the film. If you’re in a sad or dark place, don’t watch this. But otherwise, it is a very well-made debut film by Cooper, assisted by an excellent cast of actors, musicians and film technicians. And despite the tragic ending, the performances are inspiring and convincing.
Reviewed by Robin Stevens – Rated 4/5