The amount of hype and critical praise for this movie has been doing the rounds online and while this is the fourth iteration of this story, it is with fresh direction from actor Bradley Cooper starring alongside popstar Lady Gaga to propel this tired out tale into a fresh and Oscar worthy film that will be talked about for years to come.
A Star Is Born has been continually remade in each generation since the 1930’s with the last version starring Barbera Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Now comes along first time director who also produced, co-wrote and contributed to song composition Bradley Cooper and starring alongside is Lady Gaga in her first movie role. Both have clearly invested a lot into this movie and have a lot to prove. The good news is the film is not only a triumph in film making but also a great re-telling of this story that we have seen with several big name actors over the years.
The film centers around Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) a country pop megastar who is reaching the end of his career and drowning his sorrows with booze and pills. One night he is searching for a bar and stumbles upon a drag bar where Ally (Lady GaGa) is performing La Vie En Rose and is instanly drawn to her. Jack invites Ally to join her on the road for his tour and perform duet Shallow (listen to the song right now!) Ally is approached by manager Rez (Rafi Gavron) who propels her into a solo career miles away from the singer behind the piano she started out with Jack. The pair navigate the music industry as Ally is becoming a star and Jack is winding down as well as figuring out their relationship will work amongst substance abuse and addiction.
In addition to these two there are incredible supporting roles from Sam Elliott as Bobby, who is Jack’s brother and the chemistry between the two is incredible. They are completely believable as brothers and their story arc is completely joyous to watch on screen. Dave Chapelle surprises in a dramatic role, and while his screen time is short, it is effective and highlights a different side to the comedian.
The film’s direction is nothing short of incredible. Having Cooper as a weathered and scruffy rock star is portrayed perfectly. You can almost smell the alcohol and sweat as the tour goes on. Seeing Gaga completely stripped of all make up and plain clothes from her usual eccentric fashion choices completely makes these characters seem real. Often with movies starring singers and popstars it can be hard to seperate the artist from the actor (Glitter anyone??) this is completely different here, Gaga’s powerful vocals combined with Cooper’s surprising vocal performance completely fill the cinema and left me with goosebumps. All of the music and vocal performances in the movie are done live, with the tour parts recorded at the Glastonbury Music Festival. These touches really propel the film into an exploration of the music industry that hasn’t been authentically seen on screen before.
The camera work is even raw with handheld cameras and dirty shots combine with bold red and yellow lighting. The cuts are swift, particularly during the on stage and backstage tour moments and there are time jumps between the first, second and third act that are not explained with huge chunks of time missing which allow for personal interpretation and reflection after the film is over. It is a bold move that works for this kind of story and for Cooper to be able to deliver this in his first feature is a strong indication of great things to come.
Overall A Star Is Born tells a story that you may have heard before, but it does so in a unique and compelling way with outstanding performances and songs, you will be wanting to watch this movie and listen to the soundtrack over and over again. Gaga shines in her debut role with a raw performance that solidifies her career in the acting role. Cooper has shown that he is much more than just an incredible award winning actor, but a skilled producer, director and editor. He has delivered one of the finest films made this year and is an exploration of the music industry that hasn’t been done authentically before. Strong supporting performances elevate the film and the sweping score and addictive soundtrack full of earworms all combine to what I can safely say is my favourite film of 2018 (so far). The film does have a long running time of 140 minutes, but it truly is an experience worth seeing in the biggest screen with the best sound you can track down. A Star Is Born should be a strong contender for the Oscars and starts screening in Australian cinemas October 18.
Review by Alaisdair Leith