It’s difficult to not walk into A Star Is Born and already have considerably high expectations. Even before its official debut in the US, where it has currently collected over $95 million with a stellar 89% score at Rotten Tomatoes, the word of mouth surrounding the film was unanimously positive. Reactions from both the Telluride and Venice Film Festivals had the film touted as the year’s biggest Oscar contender, and now that it’s finally upon us it can be safely asserted that the hype is justified.
Pulling off one of the more remarkable debuts in recent history as a filmmaker, Bradley Cooper (who also pulls duty as lead actor, producer and screenwriter) doesn’t distance his story too vastly from the previous incarnation from 1976 (with Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand headlining), itself a remake of the 1954 Judy Garland musical, which in turn was a re-do of the original 1937 drama starring Janet Gaynor. Taking place within the music industry, Cooper’s Jackson Maine is an authentic-enough rockstar with the typical vices (drugs and alcohol) that are slowly decreasing his life expectancy; though as believable as Cooper plays it, his alarmingly toned physique keeps that touch of Hollywood gloss wavering over the grittiness of his character.
As self-destructive as he is, Jackson finds the breath of life within Ally (Lady Gaga), a waitress and budding singer/songwriter whose rendition of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose” mesmerizes him (and us as viewers) when he stops by a drag bar for a quiet drink, unaware of the talent he’s to witness. Gaga is a performer i’m admittedly only lukewarm on (at best) – though I never questioned her talent – but here she’s a bona fide superstar. Stripped of her make-up Gaga has nothing to hide behind as Ally, and it’s the vulnerability of her character that proves the most endearing. The aforementioned performance of “La Vie En Rose” is a true movie-star moment, and when Ally and Jackson collaborate musically there’s an irony that its the more country-driven acoustic tunes that feel organic to Gaga as opposed to the pop-driven music she eventually performs when her character is signed to a label and transformed into a traditional popstar.
Ally’s musical integrity being compromised as she grows more famous assists in the deeply pessimistic view on fame and celebrity that runs throughout A Star Is Born, almost as if Cooper is conflicted about his own fame and channeling that through his characters. It certainly doesn’t always make for the most upbeat of viewings, but both Cooper and Gaga’s willingness to eject their own vanity results in a much stronger film.
It almost seems certain that other critics (and the most vocal of viewers) will have their fingers at the ready to detract from the film’s success and label it overrated (similar to the La La Land debate of 2016), and certainly the base story here is far from original, but working with the familiar and skewing it in a manner that makes the final product feel fresh, not to mention the emotion evoked throughout, lends A Star Is Born an air of undeniable elation.
About A Star Is Born
Seasoned musician Jackson Maine discovers — and falls in love with — struggling artist Ally. She has just about given up on her dream to make it big as a singer until Jackson coaxes her into the spotlight. But even as Ally’s career takes off, the personal side of their relationship is breaking down, as Jackson fights an ongoing battle with his own internal demons.
A Star Is Born (M) is screening in Australian theatres from October 18th 2018.