Often a retelling of a tale can wain with each new interpretation. This is the forth adaptation of A Star is Born, with the first one dating back to 1932. Rest assured however, this is the definite version. A romantic Hollywood melodrama, with a souring soundtrack, powerful storytelling and impressive performances.
Seasoned and successful musician Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) discovers-and falls in love with-Ally (Lady Gaga). She has just about given up on her dreams of being a singer – until Jack coaxes her into the spotlight. But even as Ally’s career takes off, the personal side of their relationship is breaking down, as Jack fights an ongoing battle with his own demons. Cooper also writes and directs, while his acting performance is without a doubt the best of his career, it’s his sympathetic and rousing storytelling approach behind the camera that’s the standout. He treats the story with youthful zest and brings a personal creative touch to the proceedings.
The first half of the film, where we see Maine’s demons deepen and his relationship with Ally blossom – is undeniably impressive, dare we say, near prefect. Scenes that could easily have been cringe and naff, like the film’s musical concert numbers are instead remarkable. Helped with a slick sound design, natural lighting and close-up camera compositions – the film is drenched in an enate intimacy.
The talent and weight of A Star is Born resides in the chemistry of its leads. Lady Gaga and Cooper make their characters so nakedly humane and likeable that it’s easy to root for their blossoming romance. It’s effortless and natural and serves as the emotional core of the story. Cooper delivers his most emotionally complex and arresting performance to date as Jackson, a character who is drenched in his own hubris yet still charismatic and sympathetic, despite his self-destructive behaviour. The character serves as an important contemplation on alcoholism and addiction. Cooper managers Maine’s plight and self-sabotaging habits truthfully – not handled with humour or light-heartedness, instead with gross humiliation and grippingly guilt. A fully nuanced and sorrowful performance.
However it is Gaga who will lead most of the post viewing discussion, and rightfully so. She holds her own against Cooper for the large part, but neither the character of Ally nor Gaga’s performance are as fully developed as Coopers here. Her performance is an interesting dichotomy. The first half of the film she delivers a turn that is grounded, believable and hopeful. From the moment she twirls taking the garbage out as the title unfolds on screen, we are captivated. Gaga never lets her own star power get in the way and delivers an ebullient and winningly notable performance that is however, until the last half. Where she becomes less real and (unfortunately for Gaga) asked to deliver responses to certain situations that would be exceedingly hard for even an actress of far more experience to pull off. This is where the film loses its footing and is its major downfall. In as attempt to show Ally’s “sell-out”, we are force-fed a third act about pop being disposable. In the midst of the melodrama of the events that unfold- it starts to lose it heart and suffers slightly.
A standout supporting turn comes from the veteran Sam Elliot, whose performance as the burdened brother of Cooper’s is a heartbreaking mix of masculine contradiction and familial strength.
A Star is Born is further strengthened by its memorable original tunes and the singing of Gaga and Cooper. Overall, this is a great film that has done so much right – one forgives the wrongs. A Star is Born delivers two of the most memorable characters of the year – two performers locked in a love as true as it is torn. A relationship so tragically magnetic it’s hard not to be invested. For those willing to invest they will be rewarded with a melodramatic romance that reminds us of the sappy grand passion that movies are all about.
A Star is Born hit’s Australian cinemas on October 18, 2018.
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