Country music legend Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) drinks to cope with the pressures of his career. One night after a gig, he heads into a drag club instead of going home and witnesses the very talented Ally (Lady Gaga) perform. After they spend a night talking about music, Jackson realises Ally not only has a gift for singing but for songwriting too. He insists she come to his next concert, during which he brings her onstage. Everything changes for both of them from there.
‘A Star is Born’ is a familiar story. It has been adapted for the screen three times before – including with Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954, and Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in 1976 – and has commonalities with Oscar darlings of recent years like ‘La La Land’ and ‘The Artist.’ With its themes of dreams coming true and careers rising and falling, it’s the stuff that Hollywood is made of, and yet for all its familiarity, Bradley Cooper brings something fresh and vibrant to the trope in his directorial debut.
Technically, the film is incredibly accomplished for a first-time director, with Cooper supported by an impressive crew that includes DOP Matthew Libatique (‘Black Swan’, ‘Requiem for a Dream’) and production designer Karen Murphy (‘The Great Gatsby’). The cinematography is vivacious, the sound design is exquisite – everything about this film screams talent and expertise.
With that in mind, let’s move onto the performances, because Lady Gaga is scarily good. She is perfect in her delivery of all her character’s qualities, including Ally’s youthful, excitable charm, her self-doubt, determination, and fierce stage presence. Her not winning the Oscar would truly be a crime, and Cooper may just steal the award that has thus far been guaranteed to Ryan Gosling for ‘First Man.’ Not to be distracted from his task as the director, Cooper equally gives his all in Jackson, a man who, as in previous renditions of the character, is an alcoholic trapped in a self-destructive, downward spiral. The film alternates efficiently between both leads’ perspectives, and the chemistry Cooper and Gaga share is amazing. You really do believe they adore one another.
Gaga of course also contributed to the movie’s soundtrack, and the music takes you on as much of an emotional rollercoaster as the story. The main song, ‘Shallow’, is hyper with emotion, while Cooper’s many talents extend to his great singing voice too.
There are many layers to enjoy in ‘A Star is Born’. Some intriguing cast members emerge in Sam Elliott as Jackson’s older brother and manager, and Dave Chapelle as a friend of Jackson’s, with both seasoned stars offering words of wisdom about life and fame. The film also explores the downsides of stardom and the music industry in general. Of course, none of this is new and Cooper does well to zip the story along and keep the stakes ever-growing, not getting bogged down in making the story overly modern or overly original, but focussing on staying true to the characters and the emotion. Heart-breaking but hopeful, this is the new definitive Hollywood story.