It’s a tale as old as Morgan Freeman, Ridley Scott and the use of 999 as an emergency number in the UK. Since 1937 this story of ‘male star discovering a talented young woman and raising her to stardom, falling deeply in love along the way’, has been remade in Hollywood multiple times. After Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, now it’s Lady Gaga’s turn to carry the torch as Ally, a singer/songwriter found in a drag bar by rock icon Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper, who also writes and directs).
While the plot is not original, the huge development in celebrity culture and the music industry means the subject matter is ripe for retreading. And A Star is Born deals with addiction, identity, the responsibility which comes with fame, the pressure to constantly produce music and the churning of over-produced, meaningless pop music.
Crucially, the songs created for the film are superb. When they need to sound very produced and lacking in meaning they do, and when they should sound raw and stripped back, brimming with emotion, they are just that.
As the star in question, it’s absolutely vital that Ally displays stunning vocals, not only to sell the plot but also to carry the film’s heart. Lady Gage, therefore, is a pitch perfect piece of casting. Unsurprisingly her performance will be appreciated most when the microphone is in her hand, but Gaga nails down a really impressive all-round performance. She lives and breathes Ally. Playing smitten particularly well, she totally sells the romantic side, while also showing bite and character as an artist in her own right.
Her chemistry with Cooper is lightning. The love shared between Ally and Jackson feels incredibly authentic, so much so it’s hard to believe there aren’t any real feelings bubbling under the surface between the two leads. Their conversations are electric whether playful or emotional, sex scenes feel genuinely meaningful and not a single beat of their relationship feels forced.
This is a real landmark moment for Cooper, who for years now has built a solid filmography of good-to-great performances without ever blowing us away. This is a career best performance from him. Avoiding the clichéd charming-celebrity-bellend route, Jackson is a sweet, gentle and funny man whose passion for music as an artistry gives the film a soul, even more so when the tragedy of his character’s substance abuse and bouts of depression kick in.
As if that wasn’t enough, he displays real musical talent and has written a beautiful screenplay. It’s clearly a passion project for him and he takes great care with the minutiae. Perhaps most impressive is how assured a directorial debut it is. Bar a few on-the-nose techniques which do highlight his inexperience, he moves the camera through scenes with a natural fluidity, knowing just when to cut wide and when to get in close. His work alongside Director of Photography Matthew Libatique and his set designers is excellent, as they form some gorgeously tight, aesthetically pleasing shot compositions.
A Star is Born is a supremely authentic, engulfing love story which will leave you with a tear in your eye and a warmth for the beauty of life and artistry. With a classic Hollywood feel and a whole host of powerful themes tackled, it can still be boiled down into a very simple, very powerful love story delivered utterly convincingly by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. It’s a remarkably capable directorial debut from Cooper, who perfectly captures the purity of love and the beauty of music as an art form.