Director: Bradley Cooper.
Bradley Cooper fulfils his original dream of being a director by making this third remake of A Star is Born his directorial debut. The original being from 1937 starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, then transformed into the 1954 musical with Judy Garland and James Mason and then remade as a 1976 rock musical with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. This keeps very much to the core of William A. Wellman’s and Robert Carson’s original story of an established world famous musician helping his muse rise to stardom, taking elements from all previous versions. Well, it’s at least credits the writers of all three previous films.
First announced back in 2011, it became more of a personal project to Cooper when he was working and producing American Sniper. Before, Studios had a different headline with the likes of Depp, DiCaprio and even Cruise with Beyoncé. But when Cooper signed on he pushed for both star and direction with Lady Gaga as co-lead, and Warner Bros. green lighting his project after seeing the chemistry the two stars had on a screentest they did.
The story focuses on the volatile relationship inadvertently formed between alcoholic, drug-induced Jackson Maine (Cooper), a established, famous American folk and country singer; and a talented, undiscovered, aspiring singer/songwriter Ally (Gaga). How their accidentally encounter results in a blossoming loving romance but as Ally rises into her own fame, surpassing Jack, pressure and cracks begin to threaten their relationship. The script holds up, as does the lyrics, but it’s a fairly linear story that makes it predictable and unfortunately procrastinate in parts, though I feel this is purposefully done to allow the audience to digest what they already know is going to happen.
Cooper’s ability as a director really shines first hand, especially with that pinnacle concert performance, that really capsulated the euphoric vibe of being at a concert; and goes one step further by supplanting the audience onto a nervous stage in front of thousands. But when it happens, it truly becomes intoxicating and I was left craving more of this. His style has a raw energy yet it’s refined and some of the scenes are creatively shot adding to the dramatic impact of the story.
As for the performances, it’s quite a transformation for Cooper and he gives an absolutely compelling and convincing portrayal of a fame ridden, washed out rock star who still has a lot of heart left in him. This of course isn’t Lady Gaga’s first outing on the big screen, but it is by far her largest role after her own singing career. She’s a magnetic revelation and I wonder how much of her own career experience is portrayed here. Much of the narrative is shared and balanced between these two characters with supporting cast providing the right amount of substance to fuel the fire, especially from Sam Elliott, playing the elder brother/manager. I was so happy to see him, being one of my favourite character actors from the 90s. I wouldn’t be surprised if either, or both Cooper and Gaga receive Oscar nominations; maybe more than one for Cooper and I would currently place Gaga as a favourite.
The amazing soundtrack is obviously very much an integral element here and we all know Lady Gaga can perform; it was her who insisted to Cooper that the songs be performed live which made Cooper appreciate the art form a little more and sought singing and guitar lessons from the likes of Lukas Nelson, who also starred along with his band Promise of the Real as Maine’s stage support. Nelson, alongside Gaga obviously contributed their songwriting talents to the film and the diversity really shows, providing a soundtrack that’s likely to be listened to long after the film. But maybe not to the level of other successful musical themed films that have hit the screens recently; films like La La Land or The Greatest Show. “Shallow” is obviously the outstanding track and one the key themes of the film, but is accompanied with other potential hits of both country and pop genres like “Maybe It’s Time”, “Always Remember Us This Way” and “I’ll Never Love”.
What might be damaging to the film, is it’s own hype that’s quickly spreading. The film received an 8 minute standing ovation at the end of its screening at the Venice Film Festival; and I can appreciate why. Whilst the hype is real, it might be setting people’s expectations higher than anticipated. It’s a powerful, emotionally evoking film that quickly spirals into tragedy and for me personally, the film hit harder than expected and I’m impressed and inspired overall by the whole film, the performances and production. However... Spoiler Alert at the bottom of the post.
Running Time: 8
The Cast: 9
Job Description: 9
The Extra Bonus Point: 10 for an excellent directorial debut from Cooper and for both of their performances.
To no fault of the how the film is made or performed, nor how the story is told; it’s where the story goes that makes this hard to watch. It’s not anticlimactic as such, but I’m left craving more of that spine-tingling concert performance, watching the rest of the film, waiting to see and feel another high like it. But as the story takes a tragic turn, we’re only afforded glimpses of that positive chemistry between the stars. Unlike 8mile that builds up and finish on a climatic high, this works backwards starting on a astounding high and finishes on an emotional, powerful low.