This was my first foray into the world of A Star Is Born and so while I’m aware this is a new version of a classic, debuting originally in 1937 and then remade in 1954 and 1976, the narrative was fresh as any original film I’ve encountered and so was the progression of both characters, as their lives transform forever in dramatic and unchangeable ways.
Directed by Bradley Cooper, he also stars as alt-rock star Jackson Maine, a man who’s seemingly been touring for years and is blasting out the hits at sold-out gigs, drinking to excess and stumbling through life. After a show, Jackson runs out of alcohol on his journey back to the Hotel and guides his driver to a bar to quench his desires. It’s here that he meets Ally (Lady Gaga), an ex-waitress who’s been given a slot to sing among friends in a drag bar. As she delivers a beautiful rendition of Le Vie en Rose, Jackson is spellbound and goes to find out more. After they talk for hours, he convinces her she should be doing more with her talent and thus… their connection begins.
The next night, Jackson entices Ally onto the stage during one of his gigs and her huge vocals, on a track she’s penned, are an instant hit with the crowd and eventually the track goes viral. From then, their relationship is always a passionate, honest one but there’s a lingering of distrust from Jackson as his career falters due to his alcoholism and, on the flipside, Ally’s career begins to find some serious traction. A Star is Born is still relevant in this era and Cooper’s co-written take is brought to life due to exceptional performances and that’s what captures you throughout.
One key component is because you believe in Gaga’s Ally; she’s tough and determined from the start but also consistently down-to-earth and genuine. If you take away the obvious ‘real-life’ superstar element, you never feel that confusion here and so as her fictional career begins to blossom as Ally, you still believe she’s an every-day soul with a remarkable talent who comes across impressively. My only disconnection was in the early moments of her ‘managed’ career, as it didn’t quite fit the view of her as a serious songwriter, but that cultivates as she becomes more successful.
Cooper is resilient as the Arizona-born, deep-voiced mumbler and his character is honest to the music. However, he’s lost sense of why he’s doing it and that withdrawal from reality is tied up in his head alongside pain-killers, steroids for his voice and deep-rooted issues with alcoholism. But somewhere beneath it all, Jackson is still kind and sees a light in Ally and what she can become, it also helps him stagger through his days and try to fight for something better, Cooper really is transformative in that sense.
Sam Elliott plays his older brother Bobby superbly, it’s a significant relationship within the narrative and it’s also quite desperately sad and poignant underneath, you’ll witness it as it unravels over time. Andrew Dice Clay is also notable as Ally’s doting Father and Dave Chappelle’s ‘Noodles’, an old friend of Jackson, brings some light relief and also reminds Jackson of the reality he’s losing track of.
Cooper’s direction offers us an unerringly assured debut feature, alongside a very specific decision to focus close in on the characters faces during important, defining moments in their lives. This attachment means you feel close to the paths they take and, indeed, how they relate to each other. One memorable scene is watching Jackson reflect on things as he waits for Ally as she practices dance moves in the background but we only see silhouetted shapes as we focus on his face. The blur and the beat are a possible reminder that it’s a world he possibly isn’t a part of anymore.
A story of hope, love, loss and ultimately desire linger through every vein of the story. In a sense of wanting to succeed in something they love, or in the passion they have for each other, or even in the deep-rooted belief of their own talents, A Star is Born is all about Ally and Jackson and while it lingers a little just before the final third, it’s understandable in any era but still quite unique and remarkable.
A Star is Born is in cinemas now.