BRADLEY Cooper’s directorial debut is a roaring success.
Putting a modern spin on Moss Hart’s 1954 screenplay, A Star Is Born hits every crowd-pleasing high note and crushing low note with dazzling assurance. A finely-tuned cinematic experience that is primed to take home a number of golden statuettes come February.
In this familiar tale, Cooper plays famous country singer Jackson Maine. Popping pills and swigging whiskey as soon as he leaves the stage, Jackson troubles are also observable in his off-balance demeanour and reddened face. These addictions, coupled with frank warnings about his deteriorating hearing, signal from the outset that Jackson is on borrowed time.
But his chance discovery of musically gifted waitress Ally (Lady Gaga) offers hope. After being captivated by her performance in a drag club, Jackson spends the night with her opening up and connecting over their shared love for music. It becomes evident in these early moments of the film, which blend humour and poignancy with a careful measure to make David O. Russell proud, why Jackson and Ally are kindred spirits.
The two perfectly compliment each other’s weak spots. Jackson has finally found someone entrancing and genuinely caring enough to reach into a soul that has been shrouded by years of childhood pain and substance abuse. While Ally’s insecurities about an appearance that has held back her talent for so many years are washed away by Jackson’s doubtless infatuation. He even lavishes her nose with adoring attention.
Jackson – and Cooper’s script – waste little time in getting Ally on stage and letting her unleash the film’s rousing title song Shallow. These scenes are wonderfully done as Cooper’s rotating camera gets caught up in the lights and captures the feeling, not only of performing on stage in front of big-crowds, but also the euphoria of sharing this moment with someone you love. June and Johnny Cash levels of magic are at play.
If you aren’t won over at this point, then you should probably call it a day as A Star Is Born steadies this exulting momentum for a more emotionally strenuous second-half.
Assertively guided by a results-driven manager (Rafi Gavron), who predictably becomes the film’s breathing villain (addiction and the strains of fame are the true villains), Ally leaves the comforting wing of Jackson to pursue pop stardom. Elaborate dance routines and pressure to spice up her ‘normal’ looks await her, in what becomes an interesting reflection on Gaga’s own music career.
Ally’s distracting success and Jackson’s deteriorating struggles mean they inevitably start drifting apart as A Star Is Born leads to a powerful, beautifully acted finale. From start to finish, Cooper and Gaga harmonise beautifully together on-screen.
Gaga is a revelation in this role, delivering a performance as emotionally depthful as her voice. Likewise, this might just be a career-best performance from Cooper. In this sensitively written role, much of his work is done through Jackson’s tortured eyes which sometimes spark to life when Ally inspires him.
Although Cooper and Gaga’s chemistry will rightfully grab most of the limelight, a nod is also owed to the backup singers in A Star Is Born. Andrew Dice Clay is well-cast as Ally’s dad Lorenzo, a driver who cannot resist telling people he used to have more talent than Sinatra. He offers a few laughs and a window into the ‘nearly’ star Ally could have become.
On Jackson’s side, he is tugged back and forth by his tumultuous relationship with his older brother and manager Bobby (the brilliant Sam Elliot). Their interactions are grabbing and build to a moment of brotherly honesty that rivals anything else in the film in terms of raw emotion.
If audiences connect with it, A Star Is Born will be mentioned with similar eye-glittering fondness as Damien Chazelle’s La La Land. Not only for its outstanding lead performances and stirring soundtrack, but for the way Cooper’s camera repeatedly finds those iconic compositions, the type of visuals that leave a lasting imprint on audiences – like Ally coming through the shimmer curtains in the drag club or a proud Jackson in the foreground as Ally’s can be seen performing on the stage’s big-screen.
A Star Is Born is Hollywood at its soaring best, expertly strumming at the heartstrings and taking us on a journey we will not forget. Deserving of a standing ovation.