“Almost Every Single Person Has Told Me They Like The Way I Sounded But Not The Way I Look…”
Synchronising spectacularly with the transformation of cinema across both the twentieth and twenty first century, A Star Is Born, the fourth adaptation of the well versed tale first brought to the screen by William A. Wellman in 1937, sees Bradley Cooper both star and take the director’s seat for the very first time for a contemporary adaptation of the source material which follows Cooper’s (Silver Linings Playbook) alcohol and drug dependant rock and roll star, Jackson Maine, and his discovery of Lady Gaga’s (American Horror Story) equally talented Ally, a live-at-home dreamer whose musical career consists of drag bar shows and refusals from music executives who see her solely from the surface without understanding her true potential. Whilst one familial generation may fondly remember the 1976 version of A Star Is Born starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, another generation may go even further and recall the 1954 remake starring the one and only Judy Garland, and whilst it can be easy to dismiss remakes of classic Hollywood pictures before they even arrive onto the big screen, the fact remains that when done right, contemporary adaptations can explore fresh new ideas and offer the chance for younger audiences to experience a tale that they may have never witnessed before.
In the case of Cooper’s vision of A Star Is Born, the American’s directorial debut is a modern musical masterpiece, a deeply emotional and thoroughly engaging piece of cinema which revels in the passion of the film’s central relationship between a desperate, troubled musical star and the doe-eyed freshness of another who swiftly begins her journey into fame and fortune under the watchful eye of her mentor and lover who soon realises she may just outpace his own success with relative ease. With the first quarter of the movie primarily focusing on Cooper’s Jackson, his constant alcohol abuse and apparent mental health issues caused by a fractured family upbringing results in laboured live performances and the constant need and support from his older brother and father figure, Bobby Maine, as played by the ever magnanimous Sam Elliott (The Big Lebowski). As soon as Jackson drunkenly stumbles across the enviable talents of Gaga’s Ally however, the narrative becomes obsessed with portraying the most believable and stunningly acted on-screen romance since Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land, and with Cooper managing to brilliantly balance directing with acting duties, A Star Is Born is the American’s finest on-screen role to date, a performance riddled with inner turmoil and self-loathing which is perfectly balanced by the equally stellar Gaga, who although is not exactly new to the world of acting, with credits most famously on the likes of American Horror Story, gives it her absolute all to a character in which she obviously relates to on a human level, resulting in a performance which is expressed on-screen in, let’s face it, award winning pedigree.
Blending raw, hotly charged emotion with brilliant realism, Cooper’s movie isn’t just happy with portraying the central couple alone, with deep thematic contemplations on the effect of mental health and substance abuse threatening to suffocate both Jackson and Ally as the latter attempts to build her own career out of Jackson’s spotlight, and with a superb level of pacing which lets the characterisation flow and expand freely, Cooper’s understanding of when and where to guide the narrative’s path is truly remarkable for a debutante director. Add into the mix a simply wondrous and immediately catchy soundtrack, with each track seemingly performed fully from the depths of our stars’ heart and soul, the music is enhanced by the insistence from the cast that the tracks be performed live, and with the added brilliance of cinematography from frequent Darren Aronofsky collaborator, Matthew Libatique, the audience becomes transfixed on both the audio and visual splendour as we follow our leading duo travel across the world, from America to the immediately recognisable flag-filled horizon of the Glastonbury crowd, with each performance bearing the same riveting energy which made Straight Outta Compton so gloriously entertaining. With a sombre, heartbreaking conclusion which will result in even the toughest audience member reaching for the nearest pile of tissues, A Star Is Born is everything a remake should be, fresh, invigorating and contemporary, and whilst award buzz is inevitable for everyone involved, Oscar’s are only the start to appreciating how good A Star Is Born really is. Cooper, you’ve done good.