A musician helps a young singer and actress find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral.
‘A Star is Born’ is a story that has been told on screen several times before, often using different settings and backgrounds to reflect the time in which the film is set. This version, which also happens to be Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, centres on a love story between Jackson Maine (also Cooper), a country music star whose best days are behind him, and Ally (Lady Gaga), the titular ‘star’ of the title. It’s an accomplished debut from Cooper that gets at the heart of what makes this story work by bringing out terrific performances from Lady Gaga and himself, whilst the use of live filmed performances brings out the raw intensity of the songs that make up the soundtrack.
At its heart, ‘A Star is Born’ is about two successful musicians, one on a downward trend, and one on an upward trend, and the story of how their paths crossing are pivotal in the way their careers pan out from this point onwards. The first hour of the film is electrifying, drawing together live concert footage (from Cooper actually playing live at festivals), a first encounter at a drag bar that is sweet and cute, and Ally’s introduction to the rock star lifestyle, warts and all. It slows down a little after that but the performances (and the well written songs) kept me compelled until the very end. We’ve always known that Lady Gaga was a good singer, but she proves here that she’s equally good as an actress. Her performance is interesting as she switches between the down to earth Ally and the performer ‘Ally’, clearly but not explicitly mimicking her real life musical career. I’m unsure of the point the film was trying to make with some of the developments in her career, particularly a section on ‘Saturday Night Live’, which seemed like a direct critique of the manufactured pop music that talented artists are often thrust down (including Gaga). It possibly doesn’t help that Rez (Rafi Gavron), Ally’s manager, is written to be little more than a malicious caricature.
Alongside Ally’s rise we witness Jackson’s descent into drugs and alcoholism, which on the face of it would seem to be par for the course for a rock star in this kind of story, but Cooper is superb in the role and he brings a nuance to it that makes it all the more heartbreaking watching Jackson suffer. The supporting cast are good, particularly Sam Elliott as Jackson’s older brother and manager, and in small parts he truly shines, but as good as Cooper and Elliott are, this is Lady Gaga’s film, and whilst it would be remiss to make parallels between her career and the film’s title given her worldwide fame prior to this, it really does feel like a new chapter in her career could be beginning now. I thought ‘A Star is Born’ was a very strong piece of work, well acted and well made, and as we start to head into awards season I suspect this will definitely be in the conversation.
Directed By: Bradley Cooper
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle, Andrew Dice Clay, Anthony Ramos, Bonnie Sommerville, Michael Harney and Rafi Gavron