When a film is a remake of a remake of a remake, it tells you one of two things: either Hollywood is completely creatively bankrupt, or else the story underpinning these remakes is a heck of a good ‘un.
A Star Is Born definitely belongs to the latter grouping; in each incarnation, it chronicles the story of a male star who, while struggling with addiction and ageing out of the limelight, happens to meet a young female talent he can help along the road to superstardom.
It’s an infinitely adaptable tale which is able to reflect the trends and concerns of its age, but it’s been over 40 years since the last retelling saw Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson rocking out in 1976.
This time Bradley Cooper stars as Jackson Maine, an old-school rocker who discovers Ally (Lady Gaga) in a drag bar performing the most showstopping rendition of La Vie En Rose imaginable. From there, he catapults her into the limelight while aided by a stellar Mark Ronson-produced soundtrack.
Where Judy Garland and James Mason’s 1954 ASIB sharply satirised the decline of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Cooper (making his directorial debut here, as well as producing the film and co-writing the script and portions of the soundtrack) gently explores the machinations of the music industry through Ally’s rise to fame. But he’s far more concerned with how Jackson and Ally relate to each other as characters than in any grand satirical or thematic ideas, and it’s here that the film shines.
Cooper has been consistently excellent in serious dramatic fare for a few years now, but it’s still impressive how completely he disappears into this role, from his beautiful country-rocker vocals to his reserved, fragile gruffness concealing his affection and admiration for Ally. Gaga, meanwhile, is a revelation – while Cooper’s character has complexity in the way he’s written, Gaga imbues incredible depth into a somewhat slighter-written role, and her chemistry with Cooper is off-the-charts. This latter point is crucial: the film would fall apart if it weren’t for the extraordinarily persuasive meet-cute between the two characters, upon which the film’s central and emotionally earnest relationship rests.
Cooper’s direction makes for an impressively assured and incredibly measured debut. He makes excellent use of coloured light through cleanly composed shots, and draws fantastic performances from his stunning cast, even if the film threatens to get a little bogged down towards the third act. Yet despite these reservations, the film managed to complete my holy trinity of indicators for what makes a good film: I became so engrossed that I forgot to write notes for the entire middle third, I cried my eyes out during the climax, and I’m now listening to the soundtrack as I write this review.
Make no mistake, this film will drive the conversation during awards season. But far more importantly, it’s a powerful, well-told love story that’s about to take the world by storm.