- 15 Oct 18
Bradley Cooper brings raw authenticity to rock'n'roll saga.
Bradley Cooper is nothing if not ambitious. For his directorial debut, he plays the triple role of writer, director and lead actor in a remake of a beloved story of a young ingenue, whose stratospheric success soon eclipses that of her partner. In this version, Cooper casts Lady Gaga opposite him, and uses the modern setting to explore both an intimate emotional story and the homogenisation of music, which can transform soulful artists into formulaic performers.
The first half of A Star Is Born is sublime, with Cooper excelling in his role as Jackson Maine, a musician who shines onstage and collapses into a drunken mess the second he steps off. When he meets local singer-songwriter Ally one night after a gig, he becomes entranced by her talent and pursues her, while encouraging her to follow her dreams.
Cooper is raw and melancholic, his growling voice oozing a charismatic appeal, whether he’s quietly telling Ally that he loves her nose, or singing to a stadium full of screaming fans. The concert sequences, all shot and performed at real events, are electrifying. When Jackson first pulls Ally on stage for a duet, you can feel her blood pumping with adrenaline and fear, before sheer euphoria takes over.
But as Ally loses herself to fame and vapid pop songs, Jackson loses more and more of himself to alcoholism – and the film somewhat loses its way too. Cooper and Lady Gaga share a beautiful chemistry that’s tender, sexy and tumultuous, fuelled by the complexity that creativity and addiction bring. But by focusing on Jackson’s decline, Ally is left underwritten.
Her transformation from an insecure but outspoken artist into a one-dimensional pop star is too rapid to be believable, and relies on overused signifiers like dyed hair and heavy make-up to portray her increasing inauthenticity (hello The Devil Wears Prada, Beyond The Lights, Little Women etc). Editor Jay Cassidy also undermines some of the emotional pacing, frequently cutting away from scenes before we’ve felt their impact.
And while Lady Gaga is obviously a consummate performer, her need to deliver a perfect musical performance can hinder the raw emotion of a scene. One need only watch Demi Lovato’s broken, voice-cracking live performance of ‘Sober’ weeks before her overdose to understand the difference between a singer performing an emotional song, and a human being trying to sing while overcome with emotion. Gaga has not discovered how to portray that difference onscreen.
But there’s undeniable passion, talent and naked humanity onscreen, and for much of its run-time, A Star Is Born is impressively rapturous and romantic.