A Star is Born

A Star is born isn't just a great remake, it's really about Cooper and Gaga's unseen talents that makes this one of the best films of the year.

Remakes can be risky. While films have been remade within short proximity of preceding films, there have been iterations that once stood out but faded away with time. This is one such film where the story is well known but it’s popularity rose and fell generations ago. Which is where debut director Bradley Cooper finds himself up against his first challenge – did we really need a fourth remake of A Star is Born?

The answer is resoundingly affirmative and all you need is the first ten minutes to be reeled in hook, line and sinker. But as much as this film is an absorbing crowd-pleaser, this is also an incredibly moving obituary to the fallen heroes in show business. Anyone who has seen the previous films should be aware how this will end and although Cooper respects the original story, his approach is fresh and captivating. Even so, Cooper’s greatest triumph is the spell this film casts on its audience. There is magic and chemistry, which together brews a huge bowl of soul.

The first half of A Star is Born is absolutely charming in the boy-meets-girl department. Playing an alternative country music rock star, this is Cooper faced with his second challenge – as the lead character he had to also learn to sing convincingly well. But as the story goes, Cooper’s Jackson Maine is past his prime. There is little joy left in electrifying a sold-out concert. There is nothing more to pursue but addiction and self abuse. Ironically, and throughout the film, the chorus to Jackson’s main song plays out “Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die; It takes a lot to change a man and it takes a lot to try”. It doesn’t happen. Not until Jackson is smitten the moment he sees Ally (Lady Gaga), an unknown singer performing at a drag bar. What follows is a new and fresh take on a timeless love story of two souls on opposite trajectories but whose paths are destined to intersect.

There’s a perfect blend of magnetic pull and charm between two characters, and then between said characters and the audience. This is known as screen chemistry but it isn’t always convincing. We thought Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence were dynamite together in Silver Linings Playbook. Then came Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s widely appreciated chemistry in the [almost] Academy Award winning Best Picture La La Land. In A Star is Born, Cooper and Gaga are not only incredibly convincing, their character bonding happens like street magic – right before our eyes but never really sure when it happens. And if this isn’t convincing for the hardest of cynics, wait till you see them sing together. There can’t be anything more real than the goosebumps that follow. Music as the essence of this film rings true but the story looses some traction in the second half once focus turns to Ally as the new supernova in showbiz. It’s a stall for time until the inevitable happens and why A Star is Born is a heartfelt reach-out to the oft unseen and undesirable effects of being an adored entertainer. But as films like The Artist and Birdman have taught us, every star has a cycle including birth and death. Fundamentally, this film serves as an austere reminder of just that.

Although Cooper has starred in some big films before, he has never performed as a singer (let alone film director). And although Lady Gaga has won multiple Grammy awards as a singer, she has never performed theatrically. This could have been the most disastrous pairing in cinema history but it’s another challenge that Cooper has pulled off, albeit with near-exceptional results. There have been many before, even music divas like Madonna and Whitney Houston who attempted crossing over into cinema. Not many have succeeded. For Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, or Lady Gaga the pop star, this is the first and we certainly hope not the last. Insecure yet audacious, vulnerable yet spirited, Gaga’s Ally is the literal and figurative definition of an underdog making it big in show business. Together, they make it worth every penny you pay to watch this film and it’s a film you never want to end. But be warned. As the co-writer and co-producer of this film, Cooper doesn’t stray far from the original story. If anything, the conclusion is far more overwhelming than expected. But backed by a strong supporting cast, including a touching role from Sam Elliot, and a terrific list of original songs, this version is not only the best compared to the previous films but also one of the best films of the year.

Rating: ★★★★½

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.