Title: A Star Is Born
Director: Bradley Cooper
Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Genre: Drama, Romance, Music
Starring: Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga
Several generations have witnessed their own version of A Star is Born. Coming around every 20 years or so like a cinematic comet, the first of its four remakes burst onto screens in 1937, then again in 1954 and for a third time in 1976. The story of a man, whose successful career is in the early stages of decline, taking a talented young woman under his wing only for her to soar far above him as he plummets towards the ground. A couple walking together and separate, desperately trying to stay with each other along paths that keep abruptly changing direction.
Now, in its fourth iteration, Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut sees the timeless tale of a foredoomed love infused with naturalistic vivacity and viable authenticity. Lady Gaga, in her astounding big screen debut, leads a carefully constructed thematic mosaic of a film that depicts a rawer image of hope in companionship and the perils of fame. Interwoven with a colossally enjoyable soundtrack and delightfully magnetic performances from the two leads, Gaga and Cooper, this film has already taken a strong lead in the Oscar race.
Cooper takes on the role of Jackson Maine, a celebrated musician who numbs his days with drinks and drugs as he senses himself crumbling into an outdated anachronism. Hollywood has never been known for painting a believable picture of the rock world. However, in the opening scene, with Jackson taking the stage of a packed stadium, staggering and squinting against the harsh lights before launching into a slow rock number (a composition reminiscent of the Allman Brothers or The Marshall Tucker Band), the compelling genuineness of the scene expresses the confident mastery of tone that is omnipresent throughout the film.
The love of jump cuts in this film is exhibited early on: the stadium scene hastily switches from the euphoria of thunderous applause to Jackson alone, drinking in the isolated darkness of the back of his car. This visual comedown brings the audience back down to earth and the real Jackson is shown – a boozy and raw Southern gentleman on a rollercoaster of addiction that he makes no effort to stop.
After stumbling into a drag bar, Jackson watches struggling musician, Ally (Gaga), perform. He is instantly spellbound. After the awkward introductions, the pair embark on a Before Sunrise-like adventure, winding up in a supermarket parking lot in the early hours of the morning. Ally sings one of her own songs for Jackson and he recognises something in her that he has long lost: a ravenous desire to turn your own words into a melodious sonnet.
The film really finds its stride when Jackson invites Ally to perform her song on stage with him (the soundtrack’s standout song ‘Shallow’). As Ally grows more comfortable on stage, she sends the song into the higher register and induces a spine-tingling moment of pure exhilaration. As the song nears its end and Jackson and Ally’s voices soften together in harmony, you can see a change in the characters. A blazing fire had been ignited in them both; Jackson’s musical resurrection and Ally’s new grasp of her own destiny.
The love story, brought to life by Cooper and Gaga’s compelling chemistry, continues to unfold. Nonetheless, Jackson’s struggles with addiction linger with an unnerving presence, like a singular grey cloud sullying a blue sky – it was the sign of a storm approaching. This impending sense of doom weighs faintly on your chest throughout the film. This is until the third act, where that weight comes crashing down with such a sharp force you find yourself unable to breathe.
Alongside the incomparable acting talent of its two leads and a soundtrack that plays like an orchestral display of hope, remorse, passion and grief, the foundations of A Star Is Born’s success is laid firmly in its unembellished portrayal of melodrama. The movie never relies on caricature of characters or unbelievable plot points to move it towards the emotional climax. Nor does it rear its head away from showing the unpleasant tribulations of a relationship early on in the film – it takes the skeleton of its dramatic source material and presents it with a naked humanity.
The cinematic instruments of acting, dialogue, cinematography and soundtrack all effortlessly perform together to create this thrilling and heart-breaking symphony of a film. Nevertheless, its story remains its greatest strength. Fervent explorations of addiction, fame, despair, grief, masculinity are all dotted around the narrative centrepiece: the romance between Ally and Jackson. The love story of the dwindling star and the rising star brings classic, big-feeling cinema into a modern landscape and reminds us that some stories truly do never get old.
Words by India Pyne
Featured Image: A Star is Born © Warner Bros. Studios