Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut was the fourth retelling of the classic story A Star is Born. It was also Lady Gaga’s first starring role on the big screen. Let me tell you, her transition from stage-to-screen appeared seemingly EFFORTLESS. I walked out of the theater smiling from ear-to-ear and wiping a few tears away as well.
A Star is Born is, in the words of Angela Lansbury’s Mrs. Potts, a tale as old as time. The original was released in 1937 and starred Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. It was actually a drama about an aspiring Hollywood actress and didn’t have the musical aspect. The melodious wonder was added in the first remake in 1954, a period of cinema FILLED with musicals, and starred James Mason and Minnesota’s own Judy Garland. Yes, I am proud to say that Garland hailed from Minnesota – it’s an awesome fun fact. Then we went on to have the Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Streisand version in 1976, now we're gifted with Cooper's vision. Each is slightly different from the last, but the story remains the same.
Cooper’s version follows an established country musician named Jackson Maine. The beginning of the movie finds us at one of his shows – wowing the thousands of people in the crowd with electrifying guitar solos and catchy lyrics. It’s difficult not to be mesmerized by his performance the second it kicks off. The energy is infectious – captured by the cameras sudden movements and the crowd’s constant cheers. We also see a darker side to Jackson as he hops into the back of a car after the show and immediately downs a bottle of liquor. His speech is slurred and by the driver’s reaction to his habits, it appears to be a normal occurrence.
After guzzling the bottle he tells his driver to pull up to a nearby bar, which turns out to be a gay bar in the middle of a drag show, and this is where we meet Ally. Ally is struggling to make a decent paycheck while also trying to achieve her dream goal of being a singer – another “tale as old as time” that many of us can probably relate to. She sings an impassioned ballad of "La Vie en rose" and Jackson is immediately taken by her. To be honest, it’s hard not to be as a viewer as well. Gaga has this unbelievable talent of capturing her audience’s attention with every note she belts and making them feel like the song is being sung just for them.
With the help of her best friend Ramon, played by an always lovable Anthony Ramos, the two meet backstage and it’s clearly visible that Jackson sees the potential that she has and is also extremely interested in her. We also see Ally’s side, she’s uncomfortable with the confrontation and underestimates her own abilities. The two go out for a drink and we begin to see these underlying layers with our leads. It’s plain-to-see that Jackson is an alcoholic with unresolved issues in his personal life, and Ally catches that. She’s not naïve or ignorant - she's understanding.
And this… this is where we get the iconic first listen to “Shallow”. Which, if you haven’t heard at this point, is that goosebump-filled tune that blasts throughout the first trailer. This song really sets the tone for the whole film. Jackson, who encourages Ally to just call him “Jack”, persuades her to sing it at one of his shows, and it’s incredible. It shakes you to your core and leaves you with a few tears in your eyes – perhaps because you feel just as proud of her as Jack does, or because you see the relevance within the lyrics. They represent the troubled side of Jack that Ally sees and understands. No one’s perfect, and that’s what makes this story shine.
Our characters are flawed and complicated, which makes this not just any old love story. Jack’s an alcoholic for a reason, just as Ally is a care-taker for a reason. You learn all about these characters and want to invest even more time in them. The music they sing together is beautiful and it’s exciting to watch Ally’s career skyrocket, but underneath it all we see a man deteriorating due to the realization of his fading career, and we watch a young woman fall into a toxic cycle of codependency. She wants to help Jack and get rid of the demons that plague him, but in reality, he’s the only one that can fix himself.
It’s difficult to watch Ally go through this - but it’s real. She’s only human and Cooper did a phenomenal job of taking the time to capture these moments of despair and the reality of it all.
A Star Is Born works because it takes an old formula and builds it up into an emotionally charged story of love and loss. It’ll tug at your heartstrings while simultaneously lifting you up with energetic tunes and tour-de-force performances.