With three remakes and a number of reimagining’s – The Artist, La La Land– the story behind A Star is Born has stood the test of time: male artist meets talented yet secretive female, whose fame subsequently rises at the expense of the male. However, it may seem a little excessive to remake it a fourth time: what can a director bring to the table that’s at all refreshing and new, particularly when that director – actor Bradley Cooper – is spring-boarding off of said project as his first feature debut? Well, Cooper has achieved something quite astonishing: he’s translated a classic, romantic Hollywood narrative into the modern day, seamlessly interweaving some sensitive commentary on addiction and celebrity into the classical set-up and bringing out a revelatory performance from international superstar Lady Gaga in the process.
Bradley Cooper stars as Jackson Maine, a country-rock star whose clouded past and stalled career has forced him into a life of addiction: to alcohol and to drugs. However, one day, stumbling upon a bar in the middle of nowhere, Jackson falls upon the effervescent Ally (Lady Gaga) performing a rendition of Edith Piaf’s ‘La Vie En Rose’. Captivated by her voice – perhaps in a case of love at first sight – Jackson takes Ally under his wing, inviting her to a number of his concerts to perform alongside him. However, in classic fashion, as Ally’s stardom rises, Jackson’s begins to dwindle further.
As I said earlier, it’s a story that has been told time and time again: the rise of feminine strength at the expense of masculine dominance and the struggle to balance the two. However, the risk of overfamiliarity is diminished due to its contemporary relevance: with the increasing and deserved vocalisation of feminist concerns in the many industries, particularly entertainment, A Star is Born’s commentary feels earnt now more than ever. Luckily, Cooper’s handling of this material is truly outstanding for his first feature: it delicately connects a number of key themes, puts the female star front and centre for us to admire yet sensitively engages with the threatened man on a level rarely seen in contemporary cinema.
Ideally, both men and women will see A Star is Born as it speaks to both sexes and their position in this volatile world. While I won’t speak on behalf of any female reader, the way Cooper and fellow writers Eric Roth and Will Fetters develop Ally’s character – her personal relationships, her propulsive stardom, her interactions with key elements of celebrity culture such as the photoshoot – shows a desire to bring woman’s struggles within the entertainment industry to our direct attention.
However, more surprisingly, A Star is Born also seeks to discuss something rarely televised, a subject unsuitably considered taboo: the man as sensitive, his mental health at risk of crumbling under the pressures of life. Writing as a male reviewer, I must say that the way in which Cooper presents Jackson’s descent into a drunken, depressed stupor is nothing short of astonishing. Quite ingeniously, Cooper has taken a genre – a melodrama – that, in the 1940’s and 50’s, targeted a female audience: consider a film such as All That Heaven Allows, which features a strong masculine figure and a sensitive female stereotype searching for her place in the world. But the roles are reversed in this contemporary edition: A Star is Born places Ally within the matriarchally secure position, asked to lead and assist Jackson as he, playing the sensitive part, works to find out where he fits in the fabric of our world in flux. As such, the expression of feeling on the side of the male is emphasised, even made necessary to Jackson’s development as a character: Cooper makes it essential that men, represented by Jackson, talk about how they feel. It’s a valiant project and Cooper succeeds masterfully, operating with a deft touch that evokes the subtle, fantastically humanistic direction of Douglas Sirk.
It helps that the performances enhance the overwhelming screenplay. Gaga is nothing short of a revelation within the film. Gone is her seemingly monotone register: as Ally, Gaga speaks with conviction, taking her on a journey of self-discovery that we believe to the utmost. It helps that her vocals are nothing short of breathtaking. One performance towards the end of the film, will reward you for buying those tissues in advance of the film, fuelled with such raw emotion that it nigh on locks Gaga in for an Oscar nomination. However, Cooper cannot go unmentioned. Discoursing with a deeper, Southern droll, Cooper taps into a deep-rooted trauma with Jackson that will move many a man. One particular scene at an awards ceremony finds Jackson at his lowest point and Cooper manages to bring out its humorous and tragic sides to thorough effect.
A Star is Born is remarkable because of the way that it straddles between the real and the imaginary. Dealing with devastating subjects – depression, addiction, family trauma, the alienation of celebrity – but in a way that isn’t brutally realist such as in a film of Nicolas Ray’s or Ken Loach’s, instead closer to the fantastical, thematic drama of Douglas Sirk and his successor Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Matthew Libatique’s cinematography, making consistent use of intimate close-ups augmented by subtle music cues, exemplifies this fact. There is nothing artificial about Cooper’s film, yet nothing so strict and naturalist as to deny any kind of enjoyment. The melodramatic quality of the film engages our emotions above and beyond reality, making the film all the more affecting. As such, its themes hit harder, its tranquillity relaxes us assuredly and its beauty attracts us equally. A Star is Born is pure, personal cinema and the kind of the film that lures us to the cinema.
Dir: Bradley Cooper
Prd: Bill Gerber, Jon Peters, Bradley Cooper, Todd Phillips, Lynette Howell Taylor
Scr: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, Sam Elliott
DOP: Matthew Libatique
Editor: Jay Cassidy