Nobody was completely excited about the idea of another remake of A Star is Born. Versions of it have been floating around for years. Clint Eastwood was going to direct and Beyoncé was going to star at one point. Christian Bale, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, and many others were considered as male leads, but nothing ever materialized. The latest iteration of the doomed romance is a big gamble for its two stars. Bradley Cooper has proven himself to be a force in front of the camera, but this is his first time behind it. And the film, of course, marks the feature film debut of pop icon Lady Gaga. Well, both of these people can relax. And audiences can breathe a sigh of relief. A Star is Born is one of the very best films of 2018.
The story of A Star is Born is about as old as Hollywood Itself, but it’s different every time. In this version, Cooper plays country music star, Jackson Maine. Jackson struggles with alcoholism, but more than that, he just doesn’t feel the music anymore, and playing to packed stadiums has lost its thrill. One night, he stumbles into a drag bar and sees Ally (Gaga) perform a stirring rendition of La Vie En Rose (in French, of course.) They spend the night together, write a song in a grocery store parking lot, and then the next night, he asks her to perform with him in front of a crowd of thousands, and just like that, a star is born. As their romance continues to blossom, they learn fame comes at a cost. Her star begins to rise, and his continues to fade.
Bradley Cooper is excellent. He reminds you immediately of what Jeff Bridges did in Crazy Heart, but as you keep watching him, you realize that isn’t what he’s going for. Jackson is charming when the scene calls for it, but Cooper never shies away from how self-destructive his behavior is, and how his alcoholism affects many of the relationships in his life.
None of this is a surprise though, because Cooper always gives a good performance. I’m more surprised by how deft and precise he is behind the camera. When we see action from Jackson’s viewpoint in a drunken stupor, the camera shakes, the shot is kind of unsteady and almost unfocused, but then when we cut to Ally, viewing the same action, it’s perfectly still. That’s the kind of detailed, specific direction I’m talking about. This film achieves a very specific tone that, in theory, sounds difficult, but somehow feels effortless. It’s grand and sprawling but breathlessly intimate the entire time. As Ally goes as far as stardom can take her, it never feels like more than a story about these two people. It’s grand and small in the best ways.
But, I think we know who’s the real star of the show here. Let’s hear it for Lady Gaga. She’s a revelation. I would be very surprised if she did not win an Oscar this year. It could be argued she’s playing a version of herself – commenting on what’s expected of someone like her in the music biz, and yes, she’s a performer, but what part of a performance isn’t acting? She’s a breathtaking actress, and nobody should be surprised she’s this good. In the beginning, we meet her as a down on her luck waitress who doesn’t believe in herself. She could be anyone. And that’s what’s so great about this. She doesn’t at all resemble the superstar we all know her to be. She’s nuanced, convincing and genuine. And of course, she’s got one hell of a voice. She’s a stellar actress and I hope this marks the beginning of a great acting career for her.
A Star is Born succeeds in almost every possible way, and it’s all because of Cooper and Gaga. This is a story that lives or dies based on the chemistry of its two leads and how they play off each other, and these two are absolutely electric. It’s big and grand but rejects the Hollywood razzle-dazzle for something more gritty, raw and honest. It’s emotionally rich, exquisitely acted, meticulously directed and has a killer soundtrack. Oscar season has officially begun.