In 'A Star is Born,' strangers find love through music
There are few Hollywood narratives more satisfying than "A Star is Born." In fact, it's so tantalizing that the movie has been made four times. Luckily the latest remake starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper dazzles and shines throughout.
The tale is simple. A falling star plucks a natural from relative obscurity and watches her rise while he nosedives. As in each iteration before it, the fading musician is a man, in this case Bradley Cooper, and the new star is a woman, Lady Gaga. Both actors are nothing short of brilliant but Gaga is centerstage from the jump. She electrifies the screen, communicating emotion through the simplest of eye movements. Her singing performances capture moments better than any dialogue ever could.
Bradley Cooper, who also directs the film, plays Jackson Maine, an aging country-rock star hastening his fall between gulps of gin. Maine meets Ally (Gaga) at a drag-bar in a quest for a nightcap. She sings “La Vie en Rose,” nodding to Judy Garland’s performance in the 1954 iteration of "A Star is Born." Backstage, Ally and Maine flirt and connect. Maine is blown away by her voice. She explains she pursued a singing career, but was told her looks didn’t match her voice. The connection leads to a songwriting session in a parking lot and the scene captures the feeling of infatuation the two have for one another.
Ally lives with her father, Lorenzo (the fabulous Andrew Dice Clay), an alcoholic like Maine. The cavernous house and constant prodding by her father about how her looks don’t match her talent lead her to take a chance on Maine. He invites her out to sing at a stadium show. The two sing the now-famous song, “Shallow.” The performance is nothing short of mesmerizing. The duo's chemistry fills the screen and captures the high of their performance to an adoring crowd. But the film is not only about the high but the fall.
After every show along his tour, Maine cannot recover from the lack of adoration. He stands in front of thousands of screaming fans and sings perfect duets with Ally, but the brutal silence of the backstage leads him to drink. And drink. And drink. Ally seems to keep him grounded as he helps her become the star she truly is, but he cannot handle her success.
Ally begins the film as a psuedo-country singer. Her new manager wants to turn her pop. She relinquishes her authenticity, as the film sees it. Cooper imbues the film with a little bit of a “pop versus rock” sensibility which Gaga revels in. Most of the songs throughout the film were written by Gaga herself, and it shows her warring with a down-to-earth and gumdrop-pop duality, much like her character. Because of the constant attention, rising popularity and what he sees as shedding oneself, Jackson Maine becomes aggravated with Ally. He drinks more, insults her and retreats.
The weakest aspect of the film is Bradley Cooper’s focus on Maine. He and his brother Bobby (Sam Elliot, sure-fire supporting actor nod) get into a fight which really does not serve the plot. It humanizes Maine, ridding him of his most interesting quality. But, the two share a moment toward the final frame of the film that shows the depth and breadth of the relationship.
Ally and Maine have a deep connection, one that is often mythologized in Hollywood — an artistic synchronicity. They work together beautifully and their passion is beyond measurement. It is evident through Cooper’s ease of direction and seriousness of the emotional fabric of the characters. Nowhere in this movie is there camp or devaluing of feeling. The characters bare their souls and the audience feels it.
"A Star is Born" is mostly about the beauty of the songwriting and performing processes. These two musicians are drawn through love and craft. Their first performance together launches their love into another dimension. The rest of the film is Ally and Maine attempting to recapture that magic of their first meeting. No matter how hard they try they cannot regain that fleeting moment. The brief moment of bliss, of love, of desire. Bradley Cooper’s "A Star is Born" is a remarkable feat of Hollywood filmmaking, brimming with emotion, music and the lasting feeling of greatness.