Director: Bradley Cooper
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Rafi Gavron, Andrew Dice Clay
A musician helps a young singer and actress find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral. (Source: IMDb)
With the spotlight firmly on star, and first-time director Bradley Cooper, the stage is set for A Star is Born; a remake of a remake of a remake of a film made in 1937. Joined by megastar Lady Gaga in what is her first major movie role, the story may be familiar territory, but it is all in the delivery, and this is something which Cooper’s movie excels in.
From the opening moments, the look and feel of the film is immediately established, and Cooper’s dynamic direction truly delivers. There is a fluidity to the camera’s movement; from the way it judders to mimic the drunken stage stupor of Cooper’s Jackson Maine, to the way it focuses in on Gaga’s Ally as she has her first moment in the spotlight. The “star” of the title is Ally, and the way the camera frames her in particular is beautiful. The scenes of concerts, and most notably in the first moment she steps on stage to sing “Shallow”, focus in on the faces, the music, and the emotion, rather than the spectacle. There is an intimacy and a closeness that is really admirable, and it ensures the film never feels too flashy or showy, despite the obvious talents of Cooper and Gaga and the subject matter.
From the moment they first meet at a Drag bar (in which you can have great fun playing “name the RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants”!), the chemistry between Ally and Jackson is palpable, fizzling with electricity and managing to be consistently believable and heartfelt. There is no doubt that they are a real couple, in love with each other and their music in equal measure.
The film is distinct in its halves. First it establishes the relationship both on stage and off between Ally and Jackson, as they embark on a June Carter and Johnny Cash-style whirlwind of performing together and touring. The second half is more dramatic and emotional in nature. Ally’s career heads towards the stratospheres as she is signed to a major record label and moulded into the “pop star” much more akin to the real-life persona of Lady Gaga herself. All the while, Jackson spirals into alcoholism as he watches his dream become Ally’s and the inevitable fallout from this. It’s clear this film has something scathing to say about the music industry, and particularly in its treatment of female artists. Forced to change her image and her sound, every step Ally takes towards super-stardom is a step further away from who she truly is and the person that Jackson fell in love with.
Whilst the film inevitably showcases the musical talents of Cooper himself, and the insanely incredible vocals of Lady Gaga, it is equally a showcase of their acting talents. Cooper has never been better than in this film, and even when the actions of his character are questionable and selfish, there is a deeply sympathetic quality to him. We see him through the eyes of Ally, who despite all his flaws, loves him unconditionally. Lady Gaga is simply revelatory as Ally and watching her transform is where the film truly peaks. Seen in the trailer, the moment she steps on stage to sing “Shallow”, is even better in the film and is simply breathtaking. If you don’t get goosebumps, there’s something wrong with you; there’s such power in her voice and as already mentioned, the way the camera focuses in on her moment ensures that we feel everything and we see her noticeably change. She is the emotional heart and soul of this film, and it would be a crime if her performance was not recognised come awards season.
The final 10 minutes of this film, whilst a little predictable, are perhaps some of the most powerful in any film I’ve seen this year. You’ll inevitably be reduced to a sobbing mess, and the final performance from Lady Gaga is staged, shot, and executed in just the most exceptional way.
I saw this movie and you should too. I’ll say this now, this film might be the La La Land of this year for me. It doesn’t top that (few things do), but it has already cracked my top 10 of the year, and with a repeat viewing I feel it could move even higher. It is one of those films that I love the more and more I talk about it and think about it, and in fact my Letterboxd rating was upgraded from 4* to 5* as I realised there was actually nothing I didn’t like about this film. Like La La Land, this film will inevitably gain momentum heading to the Oscars, will inevitably find itself criticised accordingly, and it’s songs will absolutely be garnering awards attention (“Shallow” is a lock-in for best original song, you heard that here first!). A Star is Born is an emotional and powerful tour-de-force, an accomplished directorial debut, and further evidence that Lady Gaga has the greatest voice of the last decade. As if we didn’t know that already.