For his directorial debut, actor Bradley Cooper has resurrected that classic melodrama A Star is Born for its third remake. As before, this is the story of a talented woman, young but no longer fresh faced, whose aspirations of success are finally enabled by an older, troubled man. Why this gender complex tale of love and loss is so often returned to by filmmakers is not entirely clear. Perhaps, they see their own lives reflected in those of the dreamer and her weary counterpart? Perhaps, it is the opportunity the to reflect the romantic and heartbreaking reality of contemporary celebrity? Regardless, this is a gorgeous continuation to the lineage.
A remake was missing from the nineties, breaking a generational cycle that had been ongoing since William A. Wellman’s 1937 original A Star is Born, itself an unofficial rehash of George Cukor’s What Price Hollywood? five years earlier. By 1976, when Barbra Streisand allowed vanity to get the better of Frank Pierson’s iteration, it seemed as though Hollywood was set to produce a new version of the story on a twenty year rota. It was not to be. But now, Cooper has revived the tradition and adapted it for a new audience and evolved culture, one in which one viral hit can change a life forever. As ever, the film sees entertainment insiders contemplate the construct of fame and ask: is it worth the personal cost?
In a role that would be career-making, were she not already quite so astronomically huge, Lady Gaga is the star of both title and film. The pop queen plays Ally – maybe surnamed Blodgett, we never know – a waitress moonlighting as a singer at a drag bar (this is a drags to riches tale), whilst being constantly reminded by her chauffeur father that she probably won’t ever make it. Whatever ‘it’ is. Ally gets her shot when drink and drug addled rock giant Jackson Maine (Cooper drawling Dave Grohl) stumbles out of his show and into hers, falling instantly in love.
You will too. Gaga is a revelation here, an outstanding tour de force of emotional integrity and spiky sass. Stripped of the make up and meat-based costumes with which she made her name in music, Gaga totally sells the transformation of a brunette who takes out the trash for a living to a red-head Grammy-winning sensation, never feeling unlikely as either. If she is able to channel her own experiences in ascending to the edge of glory into the role (‘almost every single person that I’ve come in contact with in the music industry has told me that my nose is too big’), Ally’s journey is best seen as an amalgamation of a much broader chart demographic. As a bar singer, she has a look of Amy Winehouse – surely no accident given the context – but her progression sees her rise through the paths of those like Taylor Swift and Katie Perry; neither broken, both inexorably altered from the women who once dreamed. Was it worth it? The verdict’s out but the jury has immense topicality.
Accepting that the show belongs to Gaga, it finds its sparkle in the chemistry she shares with an equally strong Cooper. A pitch perfect first half might lose its way in a structurally slacker second but the pair hold it together. Cooper’s conclusion is more heartbreaking than anything achieved by his predecessors because you believe in their relationship. It helps that his character is generously allowed a greater degree of sympathy than those played by Fredric Marsh, James Mason and Kris Kristofferson, with Ally insisting: ‘it’s not your fault, it’s a disease’. Jackson’s brother Bobby (Sam Elliot – terrific) is more brutal in assigning blame but even he admits that the duo work together. When Ally and Jackson sing, people listen.
Composed by its leading duo, the film’s soundtrack is an instant hit, with tracks that resonate while they’re worming their way into welcoming ears. Cooper does sterling work in bringing out the best of musical numbers, having them performed live for the camera, whilst directing in such a way that actively puts his audience on the stage with Jackson and later Ally. Dare we say it? Demonstrating hitherto unknown skills, Gaga and Cooper are stars reborn.