It was back in 2016 that the fourth version of A Star Is Born was about to be made (the release dates of its predecessors being 1937, 1954 and 1976). The announcement of Bradley Cooper being at the helm was met with decidedly mixed reactions, mainly ranging in apathy to scorn. The addition of Lady Gaga as his leading lady resulted in an increase in disdain from most, although a loyal core made up mostly of Monsters remained. When the film first appeared last Autumn the Oscar buzz was swift to appear but just as swift to disappear, lost behind other films which didn’t necessarily deserve the same plaudits (I’ll name no names, but leave you to contemplate to which films I may be alluding to…)
Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a rock star who sings to huge audiences across the country and the world. An established star he’s become rather numb to his celebrity, a state added by his dependence on alcohol and drugs. His life, as it is, is a state of detached coasting. Until, post-gig, he stumbles into a drag bar and bares witness to a performance by an immensely talented unknown singer Ally (Lady Gaga). The hours roll by as they get to know each other. He invites her to his next gig, taking place a couple of states away. She declines initially but ends up going. He invites her on stage to perform the song they wrote together the night before. She declines initially but ends up going. Together they perform a song that will launch her career and a romance neither of them have ever known before.
Jackson is introduced in the film’s opening moments, his dependence on drugs and alcohol instantly established. We’re wary of him, he’s about to play a massive gig – how good will he be? The answer is very good indeed. We’re able to relax in this knowledge, yet we’re also able to acknowledge that this is not a good path that he is on. How sustainable will it be? We stand in the wings of the stage watching him, surrounded by the masses who adore him. This is a man who should have everything and yet feels nothing. How true is that for so many of our idols?
It’s one of the many aspects of the film that allows this story to be a portrait of our time, our generation’s A Star Is Born. For one thing, he isn’t a down-and-out as his predecessors have been. His career isn’t anywhere close to being over. He’s still able to tour to massive audiences, the suggestion being that he could continue doing this for as long as he wanted. Or perhaps as long as he is able to. There’s shown to be a clear difference. There would be no need for new songs – a fact that would sustain him financially if not emotionally. Or in any other way.
After stumbling into a drag bar (fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race will live for Shangela and Wiliam in these sequences) and watching Ally perform La Vie En Rose, Jackson is without doubt that she is the real deal. A true artist who is yet to have her voice heard as she deserves. And it’s true. Whilst her cover is an incredible rendition, her performance of her own song ‘Shallow’ is an electrifying powerhouse performance. The kind that will give you chills to watch with a series of power notes that get lodged in the brain and refuse to leave. This sequence exemplifies what is good about this version of the film, both leads performances and Cooper’s direction overall. The true meaning isn’t ‘just’ generated by the song, it’s in the micro expressions and movements. It’s in Ally’s covering of her face, the eye contact between them, their positioning on the stage, their body language to each other, his comfort gestures and her gradual openness. Those are the things that stay will the audience and show us the ‘truth’ within their relationship.
The film is at its most beautiful when they are together. Their chemistry and connection is clear. It’s made so potent by the intimacy between them, few on-screen relationships are shown to be this tactile, affectionate and tender. We’re so used to being shown the type of Romance that is grand gesture, public declarations and articulations of love. Rarely do we get to see those smaller moments, moments of romance that don’t require a capital letter as they simply just are. There’s a prevailing sense that when they are apart from each other there’s an ache and when they are together a thankfulness that somehow they were able to find each other.
There’s a timelessness to how their love, and the narrative itself is presented; almost like interconnected snapshots of a relationship, of two lives that have become irretrievably connected.
It will break your heart and only partially put it back together. Truly incredible.
Dir: Bradley Cooper
Scr: Eric Roth and Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle
Prd: Bill Gerber, Jon Peters, Bradley Cooper, Todd Phillips, Lynette Howell Taylor
DOP: Matthew Libatique
Music: Julianne Jordan and Julia Micheals
Run time: 135 Minutes
A Star Is Born arrives on 4K Ultra HD, Blue-Ray and DVD from February 11th.