Review: A Star is Born

A beautiful tale of ambition, love and addiction.

As directorial debuts go, Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born is unquestionably one of the best in recent years. Somehow the film has gone through production hell, sifting through the hands of multiple directors (including Clint Eastwood) and yet from this chaos has spawned a deeply moving tale of ambition, love and music.

The film traces Jackson, a husky country rock musician whose life gets profoundly changed when he watches Ally, a waitress and aspiring singer, perform La Vie en Rose at a burlesque club. The ensuing romance which grows between the pair makes for a formulaic set up as Jackson helps Ally with her rise to musical prominence, but the film dissembles this quickly, delving into commercialisation in the music industry and the struggles of stardom. A Star is Born is far from easy viewing, but it is worth your time.

Bradley Cooper takes the film into much deeper topics of maintaining musical integrity as well as alcohol and drug abuse. But his film achieves this without scornful judgement, providing sympathy to the disease of addiction and the helplessness one can feel within the machinery of the music industry. However, the love story between Jackson and Ally is pivotal in allowing these themes to spawn and therefore the chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga (Ally) cannot be commended enough for bringing this all together.

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Using singers in films isn’t new and it doesn’t always work. Thankfully, Lady Gaga delivers a profoundly emotional performance exposing independence yet vulnerability in Ally. Not only does she command every musical performance as expected, she captivates in quietly intimate scenes too. She is equal to Cooper’s brilliantly broken portrayal of Jackson.

The apex of this chemistry comes early in the film when Jackson invites Ally on stage to perform with him. Initially hesitant, Ally is overcome by Jackson’s insistence and the pair sing the song Shallow together beautifully. Up close handheld camera shots give a visceral view of the stage and make this duet incredibly intimate. It is worth noting how good Cooper’s voice is as he holds his own next to Lady Gaga. After this performance the couple swap positions; Ally rises to fame while Jackson, dealing with age and alcoholism, watches his career take a downward trajectory.

The film doesn’t overly glamorise stardom, choosing instead to show how Jackson is a fundamentally damaged celebrity who supports Ally but also occasionally resents her success. However, this bitterness is born out of his struggle with addiction which makes him so self-destructive. A character so flawed could easily have been hated, but Bradley Cooper gives Jackson a humanity which creates an overwhelming feeling of melancholy for the character.

One scene in particular heartbreakingly exposes Jackson’s struggles. He warns Ally that audiences won’t always be listening to her music, so she must enjoy it while it lasts. Jackson is slowly losing his audience which is the antithesis of Ally’s own struggle to maintain integrity amidst her growing fame.

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Using Lady Gaga in the film gives the topic of musical validation a hyper real feel as Ally slowly mutates into what we know to be Lady Gaga, with dyed hair, pop tunes and back up dancers. Gaga herself has no doubt had to deal with these scrutinises of image while creating her own musical persona. This gives Ally’s struggle an elevated sense of prominence and realism.

As a director, it is hard to bring together so many thematic strands, but Cooper does so seamlessly. He also co-wrote the script which is tender and feels realistic, as characters hesitate, stutter and murmur. Dave Chapel’s performance of Noodles, Jackson’s friend, is worth mentioning as he capably flexes his dramatic capabilities.

Towards its end, A Star is Born does begin to drag a little, but its deep themes pull it through. Fundamentally the film is about sickness and addiction, showing celebrities to be real people with real issues. The cinematography is hauntingly beautiful and the excellent songs in the film cover various genres, including rock, country and pop. But the film is about so much more than just music which is what makes A Star is Born essential viewing this October.

-Stefan Frost 

 

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