By Vincent Abbatecola
In a time where Hollywood has been experiencing an overabundance of sequels and prequels, it can be a bit exasperating when looking for something original. However, when it comes to remakes, there’s something about them that makes the prospect interesting, and that’s the ability for a director to take a film and bring it in a new direction so that it fits for the current time period, adding a new angle and vision in the process, and this has been the case with the multiple versions of “A Star Is Born.”
In 1937, William A. Wellman gave us the first go-around of this story with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, focusing on a waning movie star who helps start the career of an aspiring actress. Then, in 1954, George Cukor gave us the film’s first remake, starring Judy Garland and James Mason, which followed a similar story. Then, in 1976, Frank Pierson gave us the second remake with Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, which focused on a troubled rock star who helps a young singer find success.
Now, we have the third remake of “A Star Is Born,” this time from Bradley Cooper, who not only makes his directorial debut, but is also a star and a co-writer for the film. Although this is a story that you’ve seen numerous times before, it’s tough to care about that because the movie is reinvigorated by the depths of emotion that are presented by the two lead performances.
Jackson Maine (Cooper) is a successful musician battling alcoholism. One night, after performing, he meets a young woman named Ally (Lady Gaga), an aspiring singer/songwriter. Once Jackson hears her sing, he invites her to one of his concerts, where Ally’s given the chance to perform, and she becomes an overnight sensation. As Ally’s career begins to take off, her and Jackson’s relationship comes to a crossroads that jeopardizes everything that they’ve accomplished.
Cooper provides a charming and heartfelt performance of an artist whose musical commitment isn’t enough to keep him from his vices. Although his character comes with a couple of clichés, they’re understated to the point that allows us to see the deeper parts of his role. Cooper’s character has a downtrodden sensibility about him, but Jackson still displays his sense of purpose with his music. The past decade has given us an eclectic range of performances from Cooper, and this one continues that streak, showing us not only his talents as an actor, but a new talent as a singer. The opening scene of the film gives you a sense of the musical ability that Cooper has in store, and it gets more impressive from there in what may not only be one of his best performances, but also one of the best of the year.
Lady Gaga is exhilarating in a role that seems to have been made for her. It’s a performance in which Gaga’s stage presence from her years of singing shine through as she uses the vigor of her past musical performances to exhibit the power that Ally always wanted to bring out. At the end of her first scene, as she leaves work and quietly sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” you know that her work in the film is going to be something special. While Gaga has shown a lot of boldness in her musical performances and never seems to be apprehensive about trying something new with her work, you feel as though you see her in a new light as her character has to overcome her fear of rejection and find her voice. Of course, her musical performances in the film are show-stopping, but it’s the dialogue-driven sequences where we see another side to her talents, where, through tender conversations with Jackson, Ally reveals much in terms of her worries and aspirations. It’s an unveiling about herself that draws you further into her character, someone whose artistic abilities have been denied by the superficiality of the music industry. This makes Ally’s first musical performance in the film a thrilling sequence to witness as she lets her voice break out into the cheering crowds, showing us that Gaga has as much power performing on screen as she does at any concert venue.
The chemistry between Cooper and Gaga is one of the main reasons to see this film. The way in which their characters connect on screen shows that this is a pairing that was made for the two of them in which to shine. Whether it’s their concert sequences or dramatic moments, every minute that they’re together gives this movie its magic, and it’ll be impossible for you to blink as you watch Cooper and Gaga bring exuberant life to every frame.
The movie is also bolstered by a few superb supporting performances. Andrew Dice Clay gives some humorous work as Ally’s father. Dave Chappelle is terrific as a close friend of Jackson’s, and despite only having a few minutes of screen time, he shows potential as a dramatic actor. Then, there’s Sam Elliot, who plays Jackson’s manager and older brother (they explain the significant age difference in the film). It’s a role in which Elliot character exhibits both the love and quiet resentment that he has for his brother, and the interactions that he has with Cooper do well in showing the tenseness that runs through their brotherhood.
The screenplay by Cooper, Eric Roth, and Will Fetters is, at its core, a story of which you’ve heard several times, but the updates that it makes to fit with today’s music scene make it feel invigorating. As the narrative takes us through Jackson and Ally’s collaboration, we see everything that transpires within their relationship, such as their songwriting, concert performances, roads trips, agreements, arguments, Jackson’s demons, and Ally’s insecurities. And, despite having a few clichés, the strong emotion of the story manages to overshadow them.
As with any great movie that focuses on music, the wonderful original songs do well with enthralling you in Jackson and Ally’s artistic journey. From songs like “Shallow” to “Always Remember Us This Way” to “I’ll Never Love Again,” there are many opportunities for Cooper to display his singing abilities, while Gaga is given the chance to continue showing the world that she’s one of the most dynamic voices working today in music.
Cinematographer Matthew Libatique provides strong camerawork, with some of the most memorable shots occurring in the standout concert sequences. Just as what he accomplished three years ago for director F. Gary Gray’s “Straight Outta Compton,” Libatique captures the feeling of performing on stage and being surrounded by the sound of music and cheers from the audience.
As a filmmaker, Cooper directs the concert scenes with a boundless energy, and the dramatic scenes with a real-life rawness. The way in which he uses the canvas of the music industry, from the concert sequences to the behind-the-scenes aspects of the two main characters’ careers, Cooper shows he’s a dynamite talent behind the camera, and to see him excel as a director leads him to becoming the latest multi-talented film star. He has a command over every aspect of the film, displaying confidence and dexterity as he emerges as a filmmaker who shows that he has so much to offer.
“A Star Is Born” is a film that should be experienced on a big screen, just as you would want to see your favorite singer in concert. The movie is a convergence of its two leading stars as their characters bring happiness to each other and sweet, sweet music to the world.