I have done my best to keep this review spoiler-free but will tag any potential spoilers with **.
I have waited for this film for longer than I meant to. By that, I mean to say that I’ve waited for Lady Gaga to take part in a major film since well, her music video for “Paparazzi” came out over ten years ago (the lady has a flair for the dramatic, it was only a matter of time before she became a quadruple threat). But I did not know that I was waiting for Bradley Cooper to direct and co-star with Lady Gaga in this film. A Star Is Born not only captures our fascination with celebrity, but it gives us an achingly real relationship between two people who find out that sometimes, love just isn’t enough.
Trigger Warnings: this article will mention alcohol and drug dependency, and suicide. Please read with caution.
This film is well-written, well directed, well-acted, but more than that, it has soul. I haven’t stopped listening to the soundtrack for about 72 hours, and I will probably see the film five more times this week. It is deserving of all the praise it’s received, and as a long-time fan, it brings me great joy to see Gaga’s career take this new path. If you’ve seen any of the previous versions of A Star Is Born (1937, 1954, 1976), then you’re already familiar with the plot: a celebrity who has passed his prime meets a young ingenue and helps launch their career. There’s love, there’s heartbreak, and there’s an ending guaranteed to launch you into tears.
This version of A Star Is Born offers us something a little different than previous versions. While previous leading ladies in their versions had extensive film careers before taking on the role, Lady Gaga did not. She’s acted in minor roles and had a celebrated role on American Horror Story: Hotel, but this is her first time as a leading lady. Bradly Cooper also makes his directorial debut with this film, and it’s a risk, a big risk.
But it paid off.
Jackson “Jack” Maine (Bradley Cooper) is an established rock star–whose style reminds me very much of Johnny Cash–and the first few moments of the film establish is dependency on alcohol. Indeed, he’s not even able to make it through a few hours of a car ride without stopping at the nearest bar. The ‘nearest bar’ happens to be a drag club in which Ally (Lady Gaga) performs every Friday night. Jack approaches Ally after her show, he invites her to one of his gigs, and from then on, they’re inseparable. Offstage, though, we see Jack’s addiction becoming increasingly problematic, and **we learn that he is losing his hearing. Their relationship seems to be two planes on a tarmac–one is taking off and the other is just landing, although ‘landing’ may be too kind a term for the downward spiral of Jack’s career.
For all that Jack is troubled, the story remains at its core, a story about love. The first time Jack pulls Ally on stage to sing with him is true magic. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper are both immensely talented as musicians, but as Jack and Ally, the rest of the world fades away. Cooper’s use of cinematography in these scenes is exceptional. Ally is stage-shy, so when she’s baring her soul through song with Jack, her focus is entirely on him. The world when they sing exists of only him and her, as far as she is concerned. It’s beautiful to see.
What’s not so beautiful is the achingly raw struggle that Jack faces as he struggles to become sober. Ally loves him, no matter what, and it’s hard to watch her watch someone she loves fall apart and know that she can’t save him. **Jack has to save himself, and in the end, he can’t. Though the story is set in a glitzy lifestyle, and sometimes the celebrity is blinding, the truth is, that Jack’s struggle isn’t singular. We’ve all probably known someone (or someones) who faces a similar battle, and sometimes, it’s a battle that isn’t won. And that, is the hurt that Ally carries, and it’s a hurt that so many of us carry as well.
Cooper and Gaga’s chemistry extends past the musical portions of the film. They sound great together, but they also look great together. It’s easy to believe them a real couple, and the best scene of the film is just the two of them, chatting in a parking long while Jack wraps up Ally’s bruised knuckles with a bag of frozen peas. They’re instantly a pair. It’s no longer Jack ‘or’ Ally; it’s Jack-and-Ally. And it’s all the more sad when Ally’s final song–which plays incredibly well to Gaga’s vocal talents–does not have Jack to focus on. For the first time, the camera doesn’t have Jack to focus on while she bares her soul to the world. It’s utter heartbreak, to see her continue on her path to stardom without him beside her.
A Star Is Born is now playing in U.S. cinemas.