A Star Is Born seems to be one of the stories that Hollywood keeps returning to, as a quintessential tale of the aging star and the young starlet. Originated in 1937 A Star Is Born saw musical remakes in both 1954 and 1976. This latest version sees Bradley Cooper write, with Eric Roth and Will Fetters, direct, and star. Cooper plays Jackson Maine a star musician, who has clear drink and drug addiction problems. He meets Ally, a young waitress who sings at a drag bar, played by Lady Gaga, and brings her into the spotlight.
Even if you’ve never seen any of the other versions of A Star Is Born before this is an incredibly well worn story, and there is nothing in this new version to truly differentiate it from what has come before. It follows almost all the exact same narrative beats of the earlier iterations. It is mostly well told, although the final act has some pacing issues, which actually really lessened any emotional impact the finale of the film had for me. The decisions that characters come to feels rushed, and a little out of the blue, rather than as sweeping you up in the emotions that they should.
This was Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, as well as his first time as one of the writers of a film, and he does an excellent job for a first time director. That is coupled with a very strong acting performance, bolstered by his wonderful chemistry with Gaga. As an actress Gaga is mostly known for her roles in the 5th and 6th seasons of American Horror Story, with her role in Hotel particularly showing a lot of promise as an actress. And she fully delivers on that in this new role, managing to at least hold her own with Cooper, and often even outshines him. Sam Elliot, as Jackson’s brother Bobby, steals every scene he’s in, which given how great a performance he gives is frustratingly few.
The music is obviously having a huge cultural resonance as it has soared to the top of both the US and UK album charts. A huge part of that is almost certainly Lady Gaga’s draw. She’s a hugely popular and clearly very talented singer, but I personally am not a fan, which makes it hard for me to like the music. It is also clear that Cooper isn’t a great singer, and that definitely hurts the music. Not that my opinion on the music will matter because it is clearly doing something right to strike such a chord with people. But if, like me, you are not a fan of the music it won’t be too problematic because the music becomes less and less prominent as the film progresses.
One of the most frustrating aspects of the film is that Cooper’s character keeps on insisting that art should have something to say. The problem is that because the film lacks any real originality it doesn’t really have anything new to say. This means that when they keep returning to this idea in the film it stands out as really feeling hollow.
A Star Is Born is an extremely competently made new version of a classic Hollywood story. The lead pair’s fantastic performances and chemistry just about manage to overcome the complete lack of originality in the story, although it falls a long way short of being the Oscar contender many are viewing it as.