A Star is born

- Review by Joey Fanthom

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Bradley Cooper stars as Jackson Maine, a renowned country singer prone to alcohol and drug abuse to cope with the pressures of the music business. One night after a show, Jackson stumbles into a drag bar where he sees Ally (Lady Gaga) perform. Impressed by her considerable vocal talent, he spends the rest of the night with her and discovers that she is a gifted writer as well as a singer. Subsequently, he invites her to his next gig where she joins him on stage and they perform one of her songs together, marking the beginning of a relationship which has lasting effects on both parties.

A Star Is Born is a story that Hollywood is very familiar with by now. This is the third remake of William A. Wellman’s classic 1937 film and it really sticks very closely to the original template, hitting all the same plot points and emotional beats so if you’ve seen any of the other three iterations of this story then you know what you’re getting into. Though this does mean the film is rather formulaic in terms of the story, it is elevated by significantly by the exceptional work of cast and crew.

Watching the film, it is hard to believe that this is Cooper’s directorial debut. It is directed with the assuredness of someone with years of experience. The concert scenes are a visual treat with virtuosic camera movement comparable with many  great concert films such as The Last Waltz. Equally, the sound design is incredible. The film opens with Jackson performing to a massive stadium crowd and you are immediately sucked into the atmosphere of a live show as Jackson’s bluesy guitar and rugged vocals come blasting out of the speakers amidst the roars of thousands of fans.

Cooper proves himself quite the jack of all trades in what is arguably a career-best performance. His Jackson Maine is self-destructive, constantly gulping down gin and popping pills despite the obvious adverse effects on not only himself, but Ally and his older brother Bobby (played affectingly by the ever-dependable Sam Elliott). However, he imbues the character with a certain charm and a sympathy that makes his downfall all the more tragic in a performance that evokes memories of Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. While Cooper is great, this film belongs to Lady Gaga’s Ally. Without her usual elaborate costumes and makeup, Gaga is a revelation in what is her feature film debut. She portrays Ally as a charming, down-to-earth every-girl who is determined in her career goals but with just the right amount of vulnerability and a self-doubt that makes her believable. The two stars have fantastic chemistry together, both on stage when they duet and, in the quieter, more intimate moments between them. You absolutely buy into their relationship and that they do love each other and that’s a testament to the actors.

The soundtrack consists of primarily original songs which stand up well on their own, while also providing a thought-provoking look into the mindsets of the two main characters. Cooper and Gaga were heavily involved in the writing process themselves which comes across in the film as they sing them with purpose and passion. Of course, Lady Gaga’s vocals are every bit as good as we’ve come to expect from her throughout her esteemed career but Cooper more than holds his own on the microphone, in addition to displaying a clear talent on the guitar.

One minor point of criticism would be that it maybe goes on a little bit too long, with one scene too many of Jackson getting drunk and the aftermath but I’m really just nitpicking here because there is very little to fault in A Star Is Born. Throughout the film, Jackson says something like “there are only twelve notes but it’s how you see those notes that matters” and that rings true with the film as a whole. Yes, the story has been told before, it’s nothing new, but it’s how Cooper envisioned this story and the execution that ultimately elevates this film. Technically superb and emotionally resonant, A Star Is Born is a must-see film with a rocking soundtrack. Expect to hear plenty about it come awards season.