A Star is Born is a tale as old as cinema itself. No really, its been made 3 times already, once in 1937, another time in 1954 and again in 1976, all with varying results. So when it was said that another adaptation of A Star Is Born was in the works, many didn’t seem to care. Not until it was revealed that Bradley Cooper was going to star and direct, alongside Lady Gaga in her big screen film debut.
Jackson Maine (played by Bradley Cooper) is a country rock singer with more issues than fans. He drinks at a bar one night only to catch a glimpse at aspiring singer-songwriter Ally (played by Lady Gaga). The two form an instant connection and Jackson is able to bring Ally into the spotlight to show off her talents. However, as Ally’s career blossoms, Jackson’s career and demons spiral out of control. This forces both of them to contemplate if their relationship is destroying both their careers.
With how many times this story has been retold, you’d figure moviegoers would take a hint that Hollywood really has run out of ideas. Yet many ate it up, I know I did. I truly enjoyed how human it was, it pulled no punches in its depictions of depression and addiction which made Jackson’s character that much more sympathetic, especially when he is called out for his behavior by Ally ever so often. They never shy away from the fact that Jackson is a drunk, but that it was a part that both Jackson and Ally had to acknowledge truthfully in order for their relationship to work. But it also shows how much of a toll that can take on a relationship, as well nearly ruining a spouse’s career indirectly. No matter how many times I watch this film, I always root for them, as they sell a troubled relationship without pointing fingers at either partner.
Of course this relationship would not have worked had it not been for the stellar casting and performances of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. Both shine as the aspiring superstar and the has-been rock star. Gaga in particular was mesmerizing as her character was both talented but not naïve, as she sees Jackson’s flaws right off the bat, yet still tries to love him without changing him. Let’s not forget about Cooper’s heartbreaking performance as Maine, since he was always struggling with his demons from the get go. When he met Ally, he saw a light at the end of the tunnel. It just hurts that he did not see it through as his character arc is both tragic and all too real for many people struggling with both self worth and mental illness. I do have to briefly mention that we got a cameo from Dave Chappelle in this film as well, playing a retired musician and long-time friend of Jackson’s called Noodles. He was such a heartwarming character as he understands Jackson’s struggles and desires, Chappelle stole every scene he was in with his tender and short performance. I just wish we got more of him in the film.
I was initially skeptical when I heard that Bradley Cooper was both directing and starring. This was the first project I heard him ever directing and I only knew him from his time on The Hangover trilogy. But Cooper upended my expectations with his honest and gentle direction of the love story. Every shot, every note of music, it felt personal; as if Cooper lived through a life like this one, which as it turns out he had. He somehow managed to pull off a real-world love story with genuine characters. Not only that, but throughout the film, I see him take shots and critiques at fame itself and what it could cost as well as elevating the necessity of a creative identity. Which is the crux of Ally’s story with her rising stardom, we slowly see her evolve into the pop star. But the more fame she accumulates, the less herself she seems. That is just my two cents on it, I could be wrong though.
It wouldn’t be a musical without a soundtrack, and man does A Star Is Born deliver one! It helps that Lady Gaga’s vocals elevate everything in front of her, but Bradley Cooper shows his hidden talent for singing as well bringing a gruff country aesthetic to his songs. A couple of the best songs from the soundtrack are “Always Remember Us This Way”, “Maybe It’s Time”, and the Oscar winning “Shallow”. Each song deepens the story and deepens the bonds of the characters, attaching us to their relationship through the music; which makes it harder to hate either of them as their paths begin to diverge.
A Star Is Born may feel more overrated since its release, but that could be because of its instant popularity. It is by no means an overrated film, but one that is fitted to today’s cinematic landscape; telling a Romeo and Juliet-esque story with care, love, and above all humanity. Gaga gives the performance of a lifetime and quickly proves she is just as capable an actress as she is a singer. Along with a killer soundtrack that could rival the best of the best, and an honest direction from Cooper, this is a film that has to be experienced at least once before making any kind of judgements.