Debutant director’s perfect scenario. Make a movie that will premiere at one of the most important film festivals – in Venice. Cast an iconic star in it, along with yourself. Get rave reviews from everyone. And Bradley Cooper did just that. A Star Is Born not only heralds the emergence of a new talented director but also shines a spotlight on an actress who will easily be able to interchange the world of music into a cinema whenever she wants. Yes, I’m talking about Lady Gaga.
You could say that Cooper’s task was not a difficult one, but tricky. After all, that story was made into a film in 1976 (with Barry Streisand and Kris Kristofferson), in 1954 (with Judy Garland and James Mason) and in 1937 (with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March). But good stories do not wear out. You just need to put your heart into it and find the right faces. There is plenty of both in A Star Is Born.
Bradley plays a country musician who falls in love with an amateur singer – Ally (Lady Gaga). They are an electrifying duo, both in sung and snug scenes. There is chemistry between them, tension and a tragedy hanging in the air. The film has all the elements that a good melodrama should have. People sobbing quietly at the press screenings are a rarity, and you could hear plenty of that during the seance in Venice.
Jackson Maine (Cooper) does what every rock-country musician does. He plays sold out concerts for thousands of fans who adore him. After the gig, he drinks hectolitres of booze to get up the next day and continue to do his own thing. Our cowboy, however, is a real wreck of a man who can not exist without alcohol, and between the shows, he looks for another waterhole. Did I mention he swallows countless pills? And in this state, he somehow gets to the bar where drag queens sing. The only woman who was allowed to perform there is Ally (Gaga), a waitress and an amateur singer. The girl sings La Vie En Rose with her extraordinary voice, leaving Jackson in tears. They spend the night together wandering around. It turns out that the girl is also a songwriter – a talented one. Maine will decide to use one of the songs at the next concert. And invite a girl to perform it with him on a stage.
The opening sequence, until Ally goes on stage, is just magnificent. It captures the raw energy of live gigs, with a shaky camera and not over-polished sound. Fist meeting is romantic and uplifting at the same time. One gaze will be enough – spark between the singer and the waitress is there. They share a passion for music and the need to find a soul mate. Jackson gains energy for performances, he feels inspiration in a presence of a woman. She finally begins to believe in herself, in her talent and the fact that she does not need a perfect look (she supposedly has a big nose) to make a career. And no long after she receives an offer from a manager to start working on her solo material. This will create first cracks in their relationship, which will go through ups and downs.
A Star Is Born is a movie with music and it has few great numbers, written by Gaga and Sia. Some of those are hard to forget and after a second viewing and few trailers, I can’t get rid Shallows out of my head. Cooper sings well, but Lady Gaga has an incredible advantage. In an acting duel, there is a draw with an indication to Bradley. The story told in the film becomes even more fun to analyse if we know the singer’s career a bit. It is no coincidence that Ally is discovered in a drag queens bar – the gay world loves Gaga, and there are rumours in the show business that the star is or was a guy.
However, leaving great musical scenes aside, the acting duo gives authentic and emotional performances. Both of them are sweet, naive and sincere in their own way. Jackson has a traumatic past that he gradually shares with his new partner. He struggles with drinking and drugs, he’s losing hearing and cannot accept, that his wife might one day leave him. She is a good and loving person whose ambitions will never stand in the way of their happiness. This honesty results in a fantastic reception – you really want their relationship to work. Sam Elliot has an outstanding supporting role as the older brother, giving Jackson emotional depth. Excellent cinematography with (not too dizzy) handheld camera and dynamic editing make it almost impossible to turn your eyes away.
If the beginning and the ending of the film are perfect, the script somehow lacks in the middle part. The timeline isn’t clear, the movie seems to be rushing too much, losing some of the nuances that were so important in the first part. Ally’s artistic choices seem to focus too much on whether Lady Gaga does in her stage life. Characters career seems to lack depth, she feels sidetracked and a lot of scenes play out like cliches. Sometimes I had a feeling a movie is just rolling towards the final. But when it comes, oh boy, it’s worth a wait.
Lady Gaga, after conquering the world of music, set an impressive first step in the world of cinema. A Star Is Born may be more than a symbolic beginning of her career on the big screen. Bradley Cooper proves that years of working with the best directors (Clint Eastwood, David O. Russell) have not only sharpened his senses as the author of the film and script, but also improved his acting skills. This film will rule and share during the next year’s Oscars. Mark my words.
A Star Is Born
dir. Bradley Cooper
scr. Will Fetters, Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper
Starring: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott
In the UK cinemas from 3rd October. Warner Bros. release.