For being a fourth version of the classic cinematic version, the 2018 version of “A Star is Born” is an impressive directorial debut that showcases Bradley Cooper as an actors director, and if all else that he is quite confident behind the camera as well. The remake also proves that Lady Gaga is in fact a strong actress, and that she is born to play in this remake.
It’s not a particularly deep or masterfully made movie , it’s not even anything remotely profound, but it’s still an engaging film that resonates with a lot of strong emotional payoffs that you forget that it’s actually a remake. At first glance late last year, “A Star is Born”, was the clear Oscar front-runner until it started losing a lot of momentum at the Golden Globes in early January, in which Bohemian Rhapsody upset it for Best Picture-Drama, and even Glenn Close won the Best Actress Award for “The Wife” over Lady Gaga that evening. Since then “A Star is Born” is no longer a favor to win Best Picture, or even Best Actress for Lady Gaga, instead “Roma” (Rightfully so) is holding strong legs to wining Best Picture, and now Glenn Close is the new front-runner to take home the Oscar.
I have only seen two of the previous three versions, George Cukor’s 1954 film was a masterpiece centered around an electrifying performances by the iconic Judy Garland and James Mason, and I never saw the first one released in 1937, which started Janet Gaynor wanting to become a movie star. Cukor turned the 1954 version into a musical which was also about an aspiring actress getting discovered in Tinseltown, which allowed Garland to sing and dance with impressive dance numbers. In Frank Pierson’s 1976 version he changed the industry to the music, and Kris Kristofferson plays a fading rock star who finds love and inspiration to up-and-comer Barbra Streisand. Cooper’s version plays off more like a remake to Pierson’s than anything else.
Each of the films are very long in running time, and they all hold moments of inspiration and hope, that all take a sudden turn into melodramatic terrain of anguish and relationship complications. Cooper’s character opens the film as rock star Jackson Maine, and it takes a different approach than just being about the decline of one star falling and one star rising. Jackson is already celebrated and successful, even relevant as he he plays in front of thousands at a sold-out concert in the opening of the film.
It’s not to say Jackson isn’t self-destructive, we see him backstage drinking and taking pills, and even though he still plays to perfection on screen, this is an isolated individual who has his own demons in his wounded soul. During a night of late driving, Jackson has his limo driver take him to a nearby bar, in which ends up being a drag queen bar where the queens allow one woman, Ally (Lady Gaga), to sing. She ends up singing Edith Piaf’s “La Vie Rose”, and Jackson is instantly drawn into her singing abilities and skills.
Jackson ends up auditioning Ally to perform one of his own auditions in the backstage of the bar, and he gets her to quit her day job, in which she ends up collaborating and singing with him in the remainder of his tour where she sings her heart out in front of thousands.
The rest of the film unfolds in a predictable manner, with Ally’s career elevating and Jackson’s drinking brings him down a path of regression. Ally ends up getting a manager (Rafi Gavron), who is clearly selling Ally out as a commercial product while trying to persuade and pressure Ally to distance herself from Jackson’s destructive nature. This is challenging for Ally because both characters love each other deeply, and Cooper and Lady Gaga’s screen presence together truly shines with tenderness and honesty. Even their debates, disagreements, and heated arguments and exchanges hold great honesty.
Cooper’s directorial debut effort here certainly reaches honesty and truth about the music industry, and it never feels like it was made with an outsider perspective or gaze. Everything from the concerts, to the backstage drama, and even the Grammy’s feels like the camera is eaves dropping.
One could argue that the film is contradictory because Lady Gaga is anything but honest or authentic, because she is a stylized performer that hides behind massive make-up and David Bowie influences costumes. She isn’t really the natural kind of gal that should be playing this role, but it’s commendable just how co-writer and director Cooper treats and directs Lady Gaga in this film, more as a character than an icon, and this allows Gaga to open up to emotional truths that are locked away in her psyche that deliver the intimate conflicting moments that are always heartbreaking and honest.
Sam Elliot is also impressive here as Jackson’s much older brother and current manager, Bobby, who is trying to put Jackson back on track with business, in which Jackson believes he is just being used by him so he can make a living. The two actors share many great scenes together that carry a lot of tension, animosity, and ultimately undeniable respect and love for one another.
However, in the end this is Gaga’s movie and she does steal the spotlight. His character goes down a path of self-destruction, and he never holds jealousy of her success, he just questions some of her inexperienced and ill-advised choices she makes that aren’t always in her best interest. It’s a nuanced relationship that holds a lot of complexities and complications.
For this being Cooper’s first film, it’s a strong attempt. Despite the film always being predictable with a choppy second act that feels rushed and overstuffed with melodramatic moments, it’s the performances by Cooper and Gaga that are truly commanding here in which you can sense they put a lot of time and effort into their performances. Even if the pretense of this film was to just win Oscars and be a vehicle showcase for Lady Gaga as the cynic in me wants to believe, Cooper only proves that a classic story that is well told, and continues to be well told is still irresistible.