A Star is Born
Jacob Richardson | 13/10/2018
Powerful, dramatic and endlessly catchy, A Star Is Born will have you singing all the way home.
When famous country singer Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) stumbles, post-show, into a small bar, he happens upon an incredible rendition of La Vie En Rose from young hopeful Ally (Lady Gaga). Obsessed with her talent, Jackson takes her on the road with him, nurturing her career, even as his own is waylaid constantly by ever-worsening alcoholism and age.
A Star is Born is one of those films that bring everything together in a perfect storm to realise an incredible vision.
The first piece of that puzzle is Lady Gaga, who Cooper had to fight for in order to have her play the role of Ally. Gaga absolutely knocks it out of the park. Whether it’s fighting with her father in her italian-american New York drawl, or belting out one of the soundtracks country-themed songs on stage, she manages to craft the emotion required as part of theatrical performance while still maintaining her vocals. Even though she is one of the world’s biggest pop stars, her stage presence in the film is one of raw talent, passion and drive, rather than overly produced professionalism. It works exceedingly well, and ensures that we are fully invested in her characters rise to fame.
Cooper, too, is amazing. With a sometimes difficult to understand Arizonan accent, he fully encapsulates the ageing country rocker vibe. His singing, too, is surprisingly good, particularly when going up against Lady Gaga. Together, these two actors are able to craft an incredibly intimate and convincing relationship. Most impressive are the truly emotional scenes (the fight in the bathtub springs to mind), where the two strip back the moniker of performance and bring real soul to these characters.
This is the directorial debut for Bradley Cooper, and it is a stunningly well put together, firmly cementing him as a tour de force in the directorial game. He tends to keep the camera quite close, particularly in his rendition of performances (such as the opening performance piece). This leads to streaking lights, a sense of intimacy, and while it eschews any real sense of scale, it certainly creates a heart-pounding immersivity in the performance that feels more like what one would experience at a concert. He also tends to use reflective services and mise en scène to tremendous effect; most poignantly when Ally leaves the dressing room of the tiny bar where they meet. Here, we get two different images of Ally; the face on version where we see her reacting in real time, conveying emotion required to further the story, and then a second version through the reflective side mirror, reducing some of the emotionality of her performance and giving us a greater insight into what Jackson is seeing from stage.
This duality of perception is further exemplified in a later shot of an apologetic Jackson watching Ally practice her dancing. He’s waiting for her to finish, and almost two full thirds of the screen are taken up by his face. In a mirror behind him, we see a blurry reflection of the action he is witnessing. Cooper uses such a shot to once again reinforce that the important part here is the relationship between these two singers; what is left when all of the lights die and the crowds go away. By keeping the focus on Jackson, we see how the performance is affecting him, rather than being blinded by the performance itself.
Musically, A Star Is Born ultimately oscillates between country rock and an imitation (albeit stripped back) of modern pop. The soundtrack is endlessly catchy, but perhaps best left unlistened to prior to viewing the film; it charts very much the same dramatic journey of the movie, and can give bits away.
A Star Is Born will not only have you singing along all the way home, but will likely have you doing so in tears.