A Star is Born
Director: Bradley Cooper
Starring: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliot, Dave Chappelle, Andrew Dice Clay, and Anthony Ramos
The first version of “A Star is Born” was made in 1937 and featured Janet Gaynor and Fredric March as two star-crossed lovers on dramatically diverse paths of fame in show business. It’s a story that no matter the time period, seems to encompass all the romantic touchstones that construct heartfelt Hollywood fables about chasing that seemingly impossible dream of finding love and making your passion a reality. That’s probably why this film has been made four times in four vastly different eras associated with the quest for stardom.
The most recent iteration of “A Star is Born” features pop superstar Lady Gaga, in good company with Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand who previously played the role, and Bradley Cooper doing triple duty as actor, writer, and director. Mr. Cooper, who seems to have deep admiration for all the previous stories, builds an earnest adaptation that is grounded by naturalistic performances and a narrative that invests in the melodrama of relationships.
Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is an aging alt-country rock star, singing boot stomping ballads while high on alcohol and pills. Jackson stumbles and mumbles through concerts, in flashes displaying why he is a rock star and in other moments why his star is fading into oblivion. While looking for a bar to go on another bender, Jackson staggers into a drag bar and encounters a singer named Ally (Lady Gaga). Her version of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” completely enchants Jackson, pulling him from his alcoholic spiral and into an impromptu date that will change both of their lives.
Mr. Cooper displays early in this film a keen understanding of building and manipulating the beauty involved in the Hollywood love story. With frames that linger and examine the enraptured faces of two people who are falling deeply, passionately in love with one another, Mr. Cooper displays how easily the spell of love can overtake characters and also audiences. It’s in the first 50 minutes of this film, which slowly and deliberately invests in the budding relationship of Ally and Jackson that one will effortlessly fall entranced with everything that Mr. Cooper is doing with the story. The casting of Lady Gaga is perhaps the director’s greatest achievement here; the power and screen presence of the actress is no clearer than when her character finally gives in to her fears and performs an emotionally charged duet that will have you swooning over Gaga’s rendition and also the pair's romance.
This early romantic drama is beautifully and achingly achieved, but even the greatest of romances eventually have to deal with the perils of reality. When Ally and Jackson’s relationship encounters reality, one that is filled with the cruel sting of the music business, things begin to crumble. Jackson realizes that his career isn’t making an upward turn and Ally realizes that her star is far from reaching its peak. Jackson’s drug abuse gets worse, Ally’s career is guided in a different direction than expected, and quickly the romantic gaze disappears.
Everything in the second half of “A Star is Born” becomes a familiar tale, one that quickly delves into the turmoil complicated relationships experience with short illustrations that don’t allow for the kind of growth and control displayed when the relationship was developing early in the film. Instead, there is a loss of time and space as the romance ages, which unfortunately dulls the experience of displaying how effortless love can transition into complicated love which is an altogether different yet equally fascinating aspect of relationships if provided the attention.
Aside from the romance is a story about two artists who care as much about their craft as they do about their relationship, perhaps more in some ways. On one side we have a story about a musician struggling to remain true to his ideals, one that is examined with sober metaphors in an empty parking lot and drunken stupors in crowded places. On the other side is the story about a musician being swept into the power of the system and their own stardom, one that features simplistic pop music sensibilities and a Saturday Night Live performance that feel less than genuine. In the end however, it’s Lady Gaga’s character Ally that ultimately rules the show. The character is ambitious and independent, she pushes past the expectations created by those around her while refusing to succumb to the easy indulgences that have defined the two men she loves in her life.
Amidst some minor problems with pacing and the structure of the narrative that defines two separate aspects of a romantic relationship, “A Star is Born” is still the kind of heartbreaking Hollywood tale that is easy to fall in love with.
3.75 out of 5.00