Film Corner with Njal Heddle: A Star is Born (2018)

A Supernova is Made.

FilmThe fourth iteration of a classic Hollywood tale, A Star is Born is a confident and well-crafted directorial debut from Bradley Cooper, who pulls double duties as a talented director and with a powerhouse lead performance alongside the equally laudable Lady Gaga.

Jackson Maine (Cooper), an alcoholic, but good-natured musician, discovers the talented Ally (Gaga) by chance after a show. The two embark on a journey of love and self-discovery as Ally’s career takes off alongside Jackson’s struggle with drugs and alcohol.

Given the amount of times A Star is Born has been told, it’s easy to think that its formula is too tired to be told again, and that there is no way it could be told in a fresh new way. Cooper, amazingly for his first film, manages to not only make it fresh, but arguably the best of the bunch. Clearly slumming it with Eastwood for coming up to two movies has rubbed off on him in terms of an acting/directing combo.

His directorial grip is firm and keeps the focus on the relationship between Jackson and Ally as opposed to the alcoholism and personal flaws of his character, as adopted by EVERY MUSICAL BIOPIC EVER. Cooper’s direction, coupled with Matthew Libatique’s astounding cinematography creates a visually stunning portrayal of a relationship blossoming while a man slowly crumbles.

Cooper the actor is no slouch either. Jackson Maine is defiantly pleasant as he spirals downward, a clear mask for the help he cries for just beneath the surface. Maine clings to whatever he has, clearly now more grateful for it than ever, to the point that he’ll take a job playing second-fiddle (or in this case, guitar) to a spritely youngster in his game at an awards show. It’s a performance of intoxication that is rare, and of depression that feels far more real than previously portrayed.

Gaga, having previously scored bit parts for Robert Rodriguez and some stints on American Horror Story, gives her acting all as Ally, the titular star of the show. Hers is a performance that cements her as a successful singer-turned-actress that Madonna could only dream of becoming. Ally can hold her own with Cooper’s Maine, and the two of them work together wonderfully. Theirs is a love that feels real, and every time they hit the stage together you know that the crowds believe it, just as we do.

However, there are some items of the story that hinder it somewhat. Ally’s main reason she gives for not being a star (her nose) seem fairly unbelievable, partly because Gaga is indeed quite attractive regardless, and also that, y’know, she managed it in real life. Such bewildering tales are not unheard of in Hollywood lore, but Gaga’s star-power does beg suspension of disbelief for the character.

Her occasional shift into the “female character who can do no wrong” does render some scenes bitter, with a particularly one-sided fight between her and Jackson standing out as such. When a character becomes that form of archetype they cease to be a character and become a plot device.

But, thankfully this is a rare occurrence, and these are minor gripes. There is a degree of nuance in Jackson being blamed for everything despite being pushed by the world around him. It’s a subtly done view on the toll a life in the public eye can take.

Once fully given over to the story, A Star is Born is a beautiful, emotional powerhouse that will have even the most apathetic shedding a tear. Be it Jackson wanting to “look at you once last time”, or Sam Elliot (in brilliant form as Jackson’s bitter brother) simply backing out of a driveway (trust us), A Star is Born will have you leaving the theatre, wet of face and full of heart.

“Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die”, sings Jackson. He has a point. Cooper has reminded us that a good remake can be done well. All you have to do is have something new to say, or sing.


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