Film Review: A STAR IS BORN

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born Film (2018)

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A STAR IS BORN (2018) © Warner Bros.

Lady Gaga triumphs in Bradley Cooper’s A STAR IS BORN, proving there is still plenty of life left in this timeless tale of fame, addiction and sacrifice

The fact that Bradley Cooper chose to remake A STAR IS BORN for his directorial debut is an interesting choice. Remakes can be a tricky business, in most cases offering nothing new and often becoming a shadow of the originals. Yet, despite this being the fourth iteration of A STAR IS BORN, Cooper somehow manages to bring something new and fresh to this tale of fame, addiction and sacrifice.

For those new to the A STAR IS BORN story, the film follows the life of Jackson Maine (Cooper), a country-rock icon whose personal life is falling apart from too much booze, pills and a fraught relationship with his brother Bobby (Sam Elliott). When Jackson discovers Ally (Lady Gaga), a beautiful singer graced with a stellar voice but little self-esteem, he is instantly drawn to her and the pair quickly fall in love. But as Ally’s music career begins to skyrocket, Jackson’s heads towards a downward spiral and their personal relationship starts to break down as Jackson fights an ongoing battle with his own internal demons.

It is clear from the outset that Cooper and screenwriters Eric Roth and Will Fetters were clearly inspired by previous incarnations of the film. While this version is closest to the plot of the 1976 hit film starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, the extreme close-ups and huge moments of emotional agony very much feel like the 1957 version starring Judy Garland and James Mason.

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A STAR IS BORN (2018) © Warner Bros.

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A STAR IS BORN (2018) © Warner Bros.

Yet, Cooper brings something fresh to the narrative here, proving there is still plenty of life left in this timeless tale. Throughout the course of the film, Cooper goes out of his way to update and change the plot beats of the story. A video of Ally singing with Jackson helps to launch her career as it goes viral on YouTube and Jackson does still embarrass Ally at an awards ceremony but not quite in the same way his predecessors do.

As Jackson Maine, Cooper also de-machos the role, creating a backstory of vulnerability for the character, something we never really saw in the 70s version. In addition to Jackson’s increasing dependence on booze and pills, he’s also suffering from encroaching deafness and tinnitus. Cooper achingly bares his soul here, portraying Jackson’s pain and struggles, which periodically bring him close to anxiety attacks and temper tantrums.

Enter the extraordinarily talented Ally (Lady Gaga), who instantly wins us over with a killer version of LA VIE EN ROSE. Don’t get me wrong, Cooper is good here but it is Gaga who truly commands your attention. Understanding Ally’s insecurities and her professional drive, Gaga’s sharp and quizzical portrayal is very different from the wide-eyed openness of Streisand or Garland. More importantly, her chemistry with Cooper – which is crucial to the film – is spot-on, electricity radiating off the screen.

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A STAR IS BORN (2018) © Warner Bros.

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A STAR IS BORN (2018) © Warner Bros.

Of course, this is a story we have seen several times before and as such, is somewhat predictable. The odd shot also feels overly sentimental, the director opting for extreme close-ups and slow-motion sequences, such as the single tear silently running down the bride’s cheek during the couple’s wedding scene, to emphasise the emotion of the scene.

That said, while some characters could have been better explored – Ally’s young British manager Rez (Rafi Gavron) is an irritatingly cartoonish antagonist – this version spellbinds with its tremendous soundtrack. Much of the music was co-written by Cooper and Gaga and performed live during filming and it is here where Cooper allows Gaga’s preternatural musical talent and her magnetic stage presence to truly shine through. Expect an Oscar nomination.

4 out of 5 stars

A STAR IS BORN is released in UK cinemas from 3 October 2018.