Fourth time’s the charm for this remake. While A Star Is Born borrows the same core plotline from the original 1937 film, the 1954 musical, the 1976 rock musical and 2013 Bollywood romance film (almost as many Rocky movies), it’s thankfully still worth the watch.
First-time director and actor Bradley Cooper direct the latest adaptation, which tells the trajectory of two musicians’ careers. Ally, played by Lady Gaga, is a young singer on the rise to fame and fortune, whereas Jack (Bradley Cooper) is on a downward alcoholic spiral. The pair fall in love and attempts to navigate their relationship through their individual success and failures.
I was pleasantly surprised that the film felt fresh and original despite being a fourth remake. Cooper updates the story by putting us in the middle of modern-day rock concerts and directs scenes that show the madness of performing to large crowds. This helped give the film relevance to an updated period but also smartly provided an enjoyable burst of energy.
Another neat aspect to Cooper’s direction was his use of close-ups on Ally, which reflected how Jack’s attentive passion for her. Sometimes these shots would cut in unusually close and focus on certain features of Ally’s face; subtly bringing out the affectionate nature of these intimate moments.
A Star Is Born also cleverly works music to juxtapose the main character’s relationships on and off the stage. Cooper does this by reserving the music largely for when the pair is performing and keeping the soundscape quiet whenever their outside of this stage setting. It cleverly shows the stark difference between Ally and Jack’s loud and boisterous professional life versus their quiet and intimate private life.
Cooper plays the addiction-riddled Jack to his usual high standard and I thought he was great for the part. He manages to show the subtle pain of a gruff, anger-filled fading musician, whose years of hurt are badly hidden and eased only by alcohol and prescription drugs.
He also bravely sings in the film, which is quite daunting on his part when up against Lady Gaga. While indeed the two have quite the chemistry, Cooper manages to pull his own weight through his ability to play the piano and guitar which help make him more believable in his role.
Interestingly, Sam Elliott brings a comforting presence in his supporting role and an overall calmness to the film. Elliot plays Jack’s much older brother-turned-manager Bobby. The brother’s share an often-tense relationship and I was thoroughly engrossed in watching their dynamics unfold. Their confrontation at the end of the film and Jack’s final line to Bobby was the most heart-wrenching part of the film.
But ultimately A Star Is Born is the Lady Gaga show.
She completely and utterly steals the show with her brilliant voice and emotive ballads, on top of delivering a great performance. Ally’s growth over the course of the film had me rooting for her the entire way, but also in admiration for the sacrifices she makes to love and protect Jack.
Ally is raw and honest with Jack, letting him know when things are shitty but also trying to help him work through his demons. Gaga proves herself worthy as an actor in a way that most people wouldn’t have seen before. There are no over the top costumes or meat dresses but just a down to Earth Gaga in her natural brown hair. Fans of Gaga will see similarities in her character’s journey to her own but the film is not a story of her rise (think a step down from 8 Mile which starred global superstar rapper Eminem).
Cooper makes a valiant attempt to tell both sides of the story for this couple, and for the most part, it works. I still felt that film overall is a little bit too long and there are moments in the middle that could have been cut in the editing room. But in terms of capturing addiction and the craziness of fame, the film manages to do that while not making Jack and Ally seem ungrateful for their success.
This wasn’t an easy task for Cooper to undertake, especially on his first outing as a director. But his clear passion and enthusiasm for the film manage to make a timeless film with enough originality and soulful tracks to keep the buzz around this film going, at least until the Oscars.