A Director Is Born: A Review of 'A Star Is Born'
Much of the buzz surrounding A Star Is Born has been centred on Lady Gaga and her luminous, stripped-down portrayal of Ally. This transitioning from female recording star to the silver screen is an old a story as the film’s plot line—after all this is the 4th version of the film: Janet Gaynor in the strictly drama original of 1937, Judy Garland in the 50s, Barbara Streisand in the mid-70’s, and now Lady Gaga. And in so far as making said transition to the movies; of recent memory, we’ve had Cher, Dolly Parton, Madonna, Whitney, Mariah, Beyoncé, Jennifers Lopez and Hudson, and Queen Latifah, to name a few. So one may wonder, why so much noise and Oscar whispers about Lady Gaga in her first title role?
Having watched an advanced screening of A Star Is Born, I can understand why the excitement. From the flamboyant on-stage persona that Lady Gaga has banked her whole singing career on, she’s done a drastic about face, and other than the introductory "La Vie En Rose" sung in a drag bar, taken off all the gaudy make-up and glittery outfits to give us talented working class girl, who’s been told she can compose songs and sing, but just doesn’t have the looks. It’s playing grimy, daily wage-earner who sings-on-the-side Ally, with such natural realism, that have critics in a tizzy.
But honestly, the success of this portrayal owes as much to the deft direction and portrayal of Jackson Maine by Bradley Cooper. The story of A Star Is Born has always really been a tandem play; that of established male star who suffers from alcoholism and eroding confidence, discovering the girl ingenue and taking her under his wings until she begins to eclipse his own popularity. But unfortunately, this film has always been about the female lead—after all, how many can even remember the names of Fredric March, James Mason, and Kris Kristofferson (the male leads of the first three Star Is Born). Hopefully, we won’t forget Cooper, as he is the fulcrum behind why this 2018 version works so well.
We literally can smell the sweat, the grime, the alcohol fumes, the days without a shower, of Bradley’s Jack. How he goes over the edge with drugs and injections to handle his tinnitus and other career-related issues are laid in the open, and act as a sharp contrast to the genuine wonder he experiences when he encounters Ally. You will love the bathtub scene when the two trade insults as we see Jack’s insecurity rear its ugly head. And we will since during the Grammy Awards night when what should have been Ally’s moment of glory is tarnished by his drug-addled stupor.
Shoutouts are in order for Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s father, and Sam Elliott as Jack’s half-brother. The two wonderfully add texture and depth to our understanding the two main characters. And while there is no song that stands out the way Evergreen did in the Streisand version, there are a number of original compositions here that will be vying come Oscars night. What will be interesting to watch is which song they choose; as the song Gaga sings at the tribute to Jack concert is her channeling Whitney, and some of the songs during Ally’s pop star phase is pure JLo.
So kudos to the whole team for making a film whose story we already know still an engaging one. But personally, just as much as Gaga is being heralded as a new star, I feel a commensurate amount of buzz should be congratulating the film for giving us a new Director, Bradley Cooper.
Lead images from A Star Is Born official website