A Star Is Born

A Star Is Born
A Star Is Born
Directed by Bradley Cooper
Starring Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle and Sam Elliott
In UK Cinemas October 3rd, 2018

by Joanna Orland

Bradley Cooper’s rendition of A Star Is Born is not at all what I’d expected. On paper, the directorial debut from the Academy Award nominated actor sounds like a vanity project, with Cooper appointing himself as director, star, co-writer and producer. Plot wise, I’d expected a bit of a common take on a love story – a man feeling threatened by his female partner’s success, destroying their relationship due to his inferiority complex. In its execution, A Star Is Born is anything but these things – it is a wonderfully performed, masterfully directed intimate look at alcoholism, depression, fame and the superficial world of manufactured pop music.

It feels almost implausible that this is Cooper’s first outing as director. He clearly has picked up a lot from some of the auteurs he’s worked with, notably Clint Eastwood, as his attention to detail is meticulous and some of his choices masterfully inspired. A Star Is Born feels both intimate and grand; a personal portrait alongside an old-fashioned Hollywood musical from the golden age. Closeups of Cooper and Lady Gaga as their relationship unfolds contrast beautifully against the epic concert scenes, the dichotomy emphasizing the multi-faceted character of Jackson Maine (Cooper), an alcoholic singer-songwriter with a sordid family past, who is losing his hearing to blindingly painful tinnitus, all the while numbing his pain with booze and drugs. Music seems to be his one true passion, and it is Ally’s (Gaga) musical talent that he’s attracted to when he discovers her performing one night at a drag bar, a part of the film which features a star-turn cameo by Shangela of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame. They fall deeply in love with each other, through their love of and talent for music.

Ally joins Jackson on tour, and as their love grows, so does her fame, as she’s eventually signed on by a prominent producer, to become a manufactured pop star. It is not her rise to fame or success that the flailing Jackson resents – it is the fact that she sells out. He believes in her so much and thinks she is too good to reduce herself to vacuous pop lyrics and the ridiculous image she’s encouraged to display. He feels he failed her, didn’t help her confidence, didn’t inspire her enough to live up to her full potential; no, it is not her success that bothers him, it is that her amazing talent is going to waste, and the world won’t see her as the beautiful and talented woman that he knows she is. This is not about bringing down a more successful woman, it is about elevating a less established one.

And my God, is Ally talented… Lady Gaga has always been a phenomenal singer-songwriter and performer. Often masking her raw talent with showy outfits and stage antics, it’s easy to forget what a flawless voice she has. It feels as though A Star Is Born draws on a lot of Gaga’s own personal history of starting out in the music industry – judged on her looks rather than talent, and manufactured to appear as something that she’s not. A Star Is Born does well to humanize the often other-worldly Gaga, straying far from the visual look she normally contrives. Bold choices including dyeing her hair red rather than platinum blonde make a conscious effort to distance pop star Ally from the Gaga persona, while still drawing on some of the star’s real life vulnerabilities. This method allows Lady Gaga to shine in her performance. She is a good actress, but a great singer, and the camera work alongside the directorial choices really play to her strengths.

The music itself is unfortunately unmemomorable, melodies and hooks getting lost in the epic quality of the sound mix and greatness of the vocal performances. While I struggle to imagine any of these songs being genuine hits in the real world to the scale that they are in the film, both Lady Gaga’s and Bradley Cooper’s performances convince me that their star power is enough to achieve their level of fame and fortune. Obviously Lady Gaga is a ridiculously fantastic vocalist, so the pressure is really on Bradley Cooper to step up and prove his worth behind the mic. He absolutely nails it, choosing a genre that suits his voice perfectly and allowing great sound mixers to work with his vocals to bring his performance to life. In the smaller scale moments, his singing is vulnerable, again allowing his performance to breathe life, but in a much more intimate way. His speaking voice is about three octaves lower than we are used to hearing, as he channels the voice of Sam Elliott who is wonderfully cast as his much older brother Bobby, and who can emote more with a mere facial expression than most actors can do with heated monologues.

Intimate, grand, raw, polished, human and vulnerable; A Star Is Born has given birth to a new voice in cinema. Long live Bradley Cooper, director.


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