A Star is Born

It’s fitting that this is one of my first pieces given the connection between this website name and a previous iteration of this movie.   In this version of ‘A Star is Born’ there’s also a respectful nod to Judy Garland not long after we first meet Lady Gaga’s Ally that shows this version isn’t afraid to embrace its past.

On seeing the trailer some months ago, I was immediately predisposed to thinking that this was going to be incredible.  And it is.

This movie almost seems impossible not to be great; it’s the perfect movie for re-imagining with each generation.  The love story and the rise and fall of stardom are universal themes and a new version will simply make it relevant for today.  It’s also a cautionary tale that Hollywood curiously chooses to retell given that if ever there was a bad guy in this story, the industry that creates and maintains these stars fits perfectly.

The first version in 1937 received seven Oscar nominations, winning one for the story.  The second (and the only other version that I’ve seen) added the musical element that its taken on ever since and received 6 nominations.  Whilst Judy Garland is undoubtedly why anyone would watch this movie, James Mason is utterly believable as a broken man on a rapid descent from stardom.  Judy’s belting out ‘The Man That Got Away’ as she and her band play in a deserted bar is one of the key moments from her incredible career.

But back to 2018…

Bradley Cooper as Jackson and Lady Gaga as Ally feel completely equal in this version where in the Garland/Mason version they hadn’t so much.  They both have a huge story, both are beautiful, believable and they both break your heart.  I know Gaga divides opinion and I think you’d have a hard time watching this if you really don’t like her.  But if you like her even just a little bit, this can’t help but make you love her.

With Bradley Cooper, you’d think there was a risk in letting an actor not known for his  singing represent a character who’s meant to be Pearl Jam or Nirvana level famous, but there’s no risk here, he sings like he was born to it.   This movie shines when Cooper and Gaga are together on screen creating such chemistry that you miss them when the story temporarily shifts elsewhere.  When they both sing on stage, especially for the first time, you see a jaded star rekindle the joy he’d lost in performing next to someone tentatively reaching for that chance to shine having long since given up.  It’s incomprehensibly moving.

(I’d recommend watching the clip below after seeing the movie.  It isn’t a spoiler but may lessen the impact of the scene)

I was captured at how beautifully this movie is shot with some intensely intimate close ups that reflect the intimacy of the relationship; the view from the back of the stage out to the expanse of the audience giving us some sense of what the performer experiences; the wide open spaces of the Arizona desert that make even a wind farm look beautiful; the yellow sky and the palm trees of Los Angeles – this is how you want America to look in a movie.

The script must be sure to win awards; there’s very natural sense to the characters’ talking to each other, a lot of this is due to the skill of the acting but also to the deftness of the dialogue.  I was especially drawn to how you see the two leads get to know each other, as this often seems to be too quickly and clumsily done on screen.

In one of the scenes that shows the negative side of fame, we see Jack bundled into a car after a concert escaping a crowd who seem more like an angry mob than a group of appreciative fans.  Then later, we see him in a shop being photographed by a checkout assistant who basically says that she’s powerless to resist the urge to intrude.

Given that this movie is about two singer-songwriters, the music in this film is beautifully composed, written and performed.  Some of the songs belie the musical nature of the movie only in that they drive the narrative forward.  However, the songs stand alone as instant classics with ‘Shallow’ being the big hitter, to name some of the other songs would be a little spoiler-ish.  I’d recommend only listening to the soundtrack after seeing the movie.   Apparently, Lady Gaga compiled the album and included a lot of dialogue snippets; there’s a reason the album was released the same day as the movie.

I think any established director would be proud of what they’d achieved with this movie, but for Bradley Cooper’s first time in a dual role both behind the camera and in front, this is indeed something special.

StoryScreenplay by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters
Based on the screenplay of the 1937 film by William A. Wellman, Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker & Alan Campbell
CastBradley Cooper, as Jackson Maine
Lady Gaga, as Ally Maine
Sam Elliott, as Bobby Maine
Andrew Dice Clay, as Lorenzo Campano
DirectorBradley Cooper
Running Time136 mins