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Hollywood loves its own myths. How else can we explain another take on A Star is Born, the story of a romance between a woman with ambitions for stardom and a male star whose career is in decline? This re-make of the classic tale arrives in cinemas here following critical acclaim at the summer’s film festivals. It’s already seen as a major contender for nominations during awards season and these expectations aren’t misplaced. A Star is Born is a good debut feature from actor-director Bradley Cooper powered by a magnetic performance from Lady Gaga.
Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is an alcoholic rock musician struggling with his self-destructive behaviour and the effects of tinnitus. One night, he stumbles into a drag bar for a drink where Ally (Lady Gaga) is singing ‘La Vie en Rose’. He’s smitten. She’s unconvinced but intrigued. The pair’s initial connection develops into a tender romance. Jackson coaxes Ally on stage to sing her song, ‘Shallow’ as a duet. The moment goes viral and puts Ally on the path towards the heights of super-stardom while in private, their relationship is under pressure as Jackson’s problems mount.
The duet is the pivotal moment in A Star is Born and it’s also the scene that everyone is likely to be talking about after they see the film. The camera closes in on Ally as she struggles with fear and excitement as Jackson begins to sing her lyrics. Then, she finds the courage to push herself onstage and join him. From the moment Ally opens her mouth to sing, the sequence is unashamedly emotional, joyful and somehow utterly irresistible. The film’s great flaw is that it never manages to match this high point again in its 2 hours 15-minute runtime.
This is the third re-make of 1937’s A Star is Born following on the 1954 version (starring Judy Garland and James Mason) and the 1976 re-make (featuring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson). In terms of story, the script for the 2018 version of A Star is Born draws significant inspiration from the 1978 film. In truth, there is an old-fashioned, even nostalgic aspect to the film. Technology, social media and selfies barely intrude on Jackson and Ally’s life together in a way that appears unrealistic.
Cooper acquits himself well as a director and co-writer on what appears to have been a passion project for him. The direction of the concert segments looks authentic, particularly during the first duet between Jackson and Ally. Here, he gives a gruff, restrained performance that disguises his looks with a scruffy beard and greasy hair.
However, his work is outshone by Lady Gaga’s charismatic and vulnerable performance. The pair have believable chemistry onscreen. For any other actress, A Star is Born would have given them a break-out role that rockets them into the stratosphere. But, Gaga’s been up there since she released her debut album, The Fame, a little over 10 years ago. Instead, the film provides a strong showcase for her abilities as an actress, singer and musician. Her performance anchors the film as Ally transforms into a version of, well, Lady Gaga. It’s hard to imagine that she won’t achieve several nominations once the awards season kicks off. Yet, she is underserved by a story that is at its heart about fading masculinity. The path to stardom appears less compelling that the tumble towards obscurity.
Expect A Star is Born and its songs (especially ‘Shallow’) to feature strongly come award season. The success of The Greatest Showman suggests that audiences are in a musical mood. A Star is Born is certain to be a crowd-pleaser.