For weeks, A Star is Born has been on the receiving end of unfettered praise and Oscar buzz, which can be a sure-fire sign that a movie isn’t as good as everyone says it is. So, here’s a happy surprise: it is that good. It’s even better.
In his directorial debut, Bradley Cooper delivers a feature that’s devastatingly effective in its portrayal of the pain of being human — a story of growth, grief and gripping addiction, whose understated poignancy might bring tears to your eyes before the heartbreak even kicks in. A Star is Born is unpretentious yet dogged in its quest to expose our deepest potential as artists, and our shallowest graves as self-destructive beings.
When touring rock star Jackson ‘Jack’ Maine (Cooper) discovers service worker Ally (Lady Gaga) performing at a bar, he’s taken by her voice and asks her out for a drink. The stereotype of the protective male is flipped on its head as Ally takes on the role of Jack’s defender, punching out an insolent cop who intrudes on Jack’s space to ask for a photograph. Struck by Ally’s dormant songwriting skills, Jack convinces her to join him on tour, and the pair’s intense but playful affections unfurl nightly against the backdrop of live performance.
What follows is an up-close portrait of intimacy — a glimpse into what a little bit of tenderness can uncover between two vulnerable people. It’s not the overt displays of romance that matter here, but a collection of quiet snapshots that would usually be left on the cutting room floor. There are Jack’s fingertips on Ally’s boots as she rides behind him on a motorcycle, or a particularly memorable sweet-funny stand-off in Jack’s hotel room.
On the road somewhere in dusty America, they create a La La Land without the emotional buffer of splashy backdrops and fantasy, a love letter to anyone who has spent time orbiting live music stadiums in the real world, recreating the frenetic atmosphere of being on stage and side stage with eerie precision.
Cooper’s directorial eye is both artistic and grounded, though the film can occasionally feel choppy and jarring. His and Gaga’s ability to disappear into the skin of their characters creates a seriously rewarding experience for the viewer.
There’s a stellar supporting cast, too, from the beautifully restrained Sam Elliott in Jack’s corner as Bobby, to Anthony Ramos as Ally’s sunny best friend, Ramon. But a grating detail throughout is the complete absence of mothers — why is Hollywood so obsessed with dead moms?
The story ultimately succeeds off its thematic juxtapositions. While one person finds their true calling out of nowhere, another struggles with a lifelong affliction and desire to lose themselves entirely. And somewhere in there, the sad reality that red flags can become so common place, so expected, that they go unnoticed.
Fused with laugh-out-loud humour, even at the most uncomfortable moments, A Star is Born is driven by a searing authenticity that makes it feel like a biopic, even though it’s fiction, and it’s fiction that’s been done before: the original released in 1937, the first remake in 1954, and the second in 1976. In this latest incarnation, though, A Star Is Born demands to be remembered as something special — something that can’t be recreated anytime soon.
Don’t miss it!