A STAR IS BORN REVIEW
By Josh Osman
One would think that by now, filmmakers would have decided to stop using the same premises repeatedly in their films. Despite this, ‘A Star is Born’ succeeds in capturing the hearts of audiences and critics alike as they witness a tale of ambition and downfall, just as the original did in 1937.
The fourth version of this Hollywood classic, directed by Bradley Cooper with Lady Gaga and himself in the lead roles, carries the same plot as the previous three before it, so it’s hard to comment on the originality of the story. However, Cooper’s take on the film differs greatly in many ways that make it stand out from the others and perhaps change the viewers’ perception of the characters and events. For example, unlike the previous version, which heavily focuses on Barbara Streisand’s lead, the two lead roles in this version feel like equals, though not without some balancing issues at certain points in the movie. Apart from this, two focus on the music industry and two focus on the film industry, which adds a little difference in circumstance too.
So, unnecessary fanboy knowledge aside, the plot of ‘A Star is Born’ takes a simple premise and turns it into a compelling love story, driven by the willpower and talent of Ally Campana, a young woman played by Lady Gaga, and the demons of Jackson Maine, a famous country musician played by Bradley Cooper, who begins to lose his way. After a performance, a tired (and drunk) Jackson stumbles upon a local bar and discovers Ally, whose talent and beautiful singing voice enchant him. They spend the night talking about their issues, where the audience learns that Ally is a waitress and singer-song-writer, struggling to break into fame. Jackson invites her to perform at his next show and from then on, the stories of their love and careers begin to kick off. The rest of the film follows the two characters through the ups and downs of their relationship, with a beautiful and heart-wrenching ending, that won’t fail to bring out tears from even the most hardened of people.
Ally and Jackson are undoubtedly both powerful and relatable leads, almost acting as foils to each other in their traits: Ally is young, ambitious and hopeful, yet Jackson is past his prime and beginning to give up on himself, resorting to a life of drinking and drugs. Somehow, their paths cross and they fall in love, with Jackson watching the love of his life rise to a level of fame, which even he had never achieved, while watching his own career go up in smoke and fade into the ashes. There seems to be something both warming and tragic about watching one powerful character grow as her counterpart crumbles, yet they still stick together through the difficult times for one another. Throughout the film, I constantly felt that I was able to relate to the characters, whether it was through Jackson’s missing self-esteem that anyone could empathise with, or the weights that Ally has to pull to maintain both her love life and her musical career; it’s hard not to understand the sacrifices and compromises she makes to try and balance both aspects of her life. There is so much to appreciate the characters, whether or not we fully agree with all the decisions they make throughout the film.
On the other hand, the film seems to have one prominent flaw to me, which did take me some time to realise as I reflected on watching it. Through her decisions and power as a character, Ally stands out as the true main role in the movie, despite the attempts to balance them. While their stories are equally compelling, we’re left truly following Ally’s career, her relationship and how her life changes over the course of the film. While her actions and emotions are greatly affected by Jackson, especially in the second half of the film, she drives the story and the events herself, with her actions and choices moving the plot forward and motivating Jackson to do other things, which subsequently progress the story. There’s no problem with this, as it feels natural, with the way that Ally carries Jackson through the hardest times in their lives. However, Cooper, as director, seems to place almost too much significance on Jackson’s backstory and family relationships, as if to try and add more depth to the character when it isn’t quite needed. I didn’t feel that the relationship between Jackson and his brother, nor the family history added much to the narrative or to the characters themselves. Everything seen in Jackson from this backstory is seen elsewhere and a viewer doesn’t learn much new about him from it. Moreover, it’s clear that some scenes seem to try too hard to place Jackson in the spotlight, when Ally is really the star of the show, which feels wonderful at first, as it gives the impression that he is guiding her into stardom, but later into the film it feels more like an attempt to remind the audiences of their equal roles in the story, which isn’t necessarily the case at that point.
Being a musical, it would be ridiculous to ignore the soundtrack of the film, which is absolutely phenomenal, by the way. Cooper and Lady Gaga did a fantastic job of the music, getting various country musicians to also work on the songs to make the ones performed by Cooper’s character feel more authentic. While there are some clear outstanding songs from the film - Shallow, all of them hold their own as well-written and touching pieces of music that add another layer of depth to the film. Both leads deliver powerful and stunning performances throughout the movie, ranging from power ballads to more upbeat rock music. After all, good singers do always make a musical a little bit better (those who’ve seen ‘Mamma Mia!’ may not have the fondest memories of a certain Pierce Brosnan performance).
Though not without its flaws, the film never failed to keep me engaged and is an outstanding candidate for the upcoming award season. In fact, it has already started garnering many nominations and is one of the films leading the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards and even the Grammys. From the first time the characters meet to the tear-jerking and bittersweet finale, ‘A Star is Born’ is undoubtedly a masterpiece, with passionate, striking music; deep, complex characters and a premise that will seemingly never grow old.