To say that “A Star is Born” is a coming out party for Lady Gaga would be a misstatement. After all, Lady Gaga is one of the biggest stars in the world. But in “A Star is Born” we see Gaga do something she’s never done before: capture an audience for a feature-length film and deliver a career-defining performance.
The third remake of the original 1937 film starring Janet Gaynor, “A Star is Born” (2018) tells the story of country star Jack (Bradley Cooper) and Ally (Lady Gaga), a woman he finds in a drag bar desperate to perform and escape her doldrum life. What starts off as a fling blossoms into a romance that catapults Ally to superstardom just as Jack’s career nosedives because of drugs and alcohol.
Director and co-writer Bradley Cooper demonstrates a great aptitude for filmmaking in his first go-round behind the camera (and in front of it). His work with Gaga and brother character, Bobby (Sam Elliot), is heart-wrenching. An acting tour-de-force first and foremost, there is a good mixture of handheld camera and pans to dramatize the action and the lighting really accentuates the curves of the character’s faces, every dimple and wrinkle defined. The first 30 minutes of the film is a slow-paced marvel, brilliantly building up the first night between Jack and Ally. After this, the film feels generally rushed. It can’t match the care given to the first act which is a shame, even though there are several strong sequences and the general arc of the narrative is moving.
Taking a film whose original narrative was conceived before World War II and adapting it to modern day can be challenging, but much like taking “The Taming of the Shrew” and putting it a high school setting (“10 Things I Hate About You”), the trick is to utilize the basic structure of a story and incorporate modern themes. The “A Star is Born” films of 1937, 1954 and 1976 all tell a romance story about how fame corrupts. That will never grow old. Cooper’s version adds the pressure of constant social media coverage, illustrating how our perceptions of each other are framed behind Facebook feeds and 10-second stories that keep us from really connecting.
And much like Cooper’s ability to connect with a broad swath of America in Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper”, his character of Jack embodies both the hope and despair of the modern American. His addiction to pills and booze mirrors the growing opioid epidemic. And Ally’s low-paying job, living with her father, who works as a limo driver, reflects a growing number of failed dreams and unrealized potentials; so many of us are trapped or held back because of the way we look or how the odds are stacked against us. It’s a personal, interesting dynamic that really hooks the viewer into the narrative.
For Lady Gaga, she steals every scene of the film, her eyes both naive and strong, her face welcoming and fearful. It’s a star making role for a persona many of us thought we already knew, a reinvention of sorts of a mainstream celebrity.
It’s a shame that the film is another remake. It would have served perfectly fine as its own narrative, but who knows if a film like that could have been made today.
Overall, “A Star is Born” is a love story, the kind we don’t often see anymore, shamed by us for thinking them too sappy. We’re jaded by an oversaturation of media and false narratives, much the point of the film, unable to recognize our true selves hidden by booze, social media or disguises. Cooper’s Jack sees Ally as her true self and falls in love with her. It’s the world itself, full of jaded individuals, that destroys that love. The film is a moving tale of love regardless of the path it takes.