Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper breathe new life into the classic tearjerker.
It’s not often these days that a film which isn’t part of a franchise, nor based on comics or children’s books, creates such a buzz – especially not a love story. The excitement surrounding the fourth big screen outing of A Star Is Born is no doubt largely due to the casting of Lada Gaga in her first major leading role. It doesn’t hurt either that co-star Bradley Cooper can boast four Oscar nominations. This time, however, Cooper doesn’t just act; he makes his directorial debut, co-writes, produces, composes AND sings. It’s nothing if not ambitious but can they pull it off?
Well, the good news is that they can…with bells on. Cooper’s crooning is far from cringe-worthy and those secretly hoping Gaga will fall flat on her face will be sorely disappointed. The soundtrack is bound to sell countless copies and it will be a big surprise if Oscar nominations don’t follow. More importantly, Cooper has made a film that is very, very difficult to dislike.
Jackson ‘Jack’ Maine (Cooper) is a famous country/rock star. Unlike previous incarnations, he’s not a has-been and can still pull in the stadium crowds but there’s no doubt he’s in serious trouble. His hearing is deteriorating and he’s rapidly transforming from a functioning alcoholic to a not-so-functioning one. And then, in a drag bar, he discovers Ally (Gaga), a talented but unsuccessful singer-songwriter doing a rather impressive impression of Edith Piaf, and cupid strikes.
Cooper really takes his time over this first meeting, establishing not only the backstories of the two protagonists but the undeniable chemistry between them. By the time we get to date two, when Jack coaxes Ally on stage and sets her on the road to stardom, we’re already rooting for them both.
A Star Is Born is not a plot-driven movie with unexpected twists and turns. Whether you’ve seen the earlier versions or not, it’s obvious that there’s no happy ending in store. Ally’s rising star soon looks set to eclipse Jack’s, but it’s not career envy that’s the problem here. It’s deeper issues, including addiction and depression. Jack is basically a nice guy who wants the woman he loves to succeed, but he’s damaged, unravelling and unable to cope with the pressures of fame. You want to hug him and tell him it’s going to be okay. Only it’s not going to be okay.
With such a character-driven piece (not to mention the musical abilities required), casting has always been key to the success of A Star Is Born. Gaga might already have a Golden Globe under her belt for American Horror Story but stepping into the shoes of movie megastars such as Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand requires a lot of guts. Gaga rises to the challenge, stripping away any traces of her own persona and leaving us with a poignant and powerful performance that is entirely credible.
The music is also pretty darn good. Cooper sings with a velvety, mellow tone (he trained for months to lower his voice almost an octave) and Gaga, well, we know the girl can sing, but this is a very different sound and she puts her heart and soul into every line. The vocals were recorded live (no lip-synching), often in front of unsuspecting crowds at festivals such as Glastonbury, lending them an immediacy and authenticity.
A Star Is Born has graced the big screen in the 1930s, ‘50s and ‘70s, so a revisit seems somewhat overdue. The 2018 offering is not only a contemporary update but arguably more moving, memorable and monumentally heart-breaking than its predecessors.
‘A Star Is Born‘ is in UK cinemas from 3rd October and US cinemas from 5th October.
words. Huma Humayun