Walking into A Star is Born (2018), I was skeptical of Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut. The film is the third remake of the Janet Gaynor led 1937 film of the same name, following the 1954 classic musical with Judy Garland and the unquestionably inferior 1976 rock musical with Barbra Streisand. It didn’t appear that the story could be told in a convincing way again, but I gladly stand corrected.
The newest iteration follows Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), an alcoholic and drug-dependant country rock star, who stumbles into a Los Angeles drag bar looking for a drink. As people begin to recognize him, Ally (Lady Gaga) takes the stage and impresses Jackson with her rendition of “La Vie En Rose.” Afterwards, Ally confides to Jackson that she never pursued music professionally due to past negative remarks about her nose from music executives. Ally has given up on the superficial music industry, but as she shares her original songs, Jackson continues to see her undeniable raw talent.
Jackson invites her to his next show and convinces Ally to perform one of her songs alongside him, and the duet becomes a viral hit. As the two fall in love, Ally’s stardom is on the rise, while Jackson spirals from battling his addiction and turbulent relationship with older brother Bobby (Sam Elliott).
Cooper and Gaga’s chemistry is electrifying, most notably in the first half of the film as Jackson and Ally’s relationship develops. The night the two meet, they go shopping at a local grocery store after Ally injures herself defending Jackson at a bar. While checking out, the cashier takes a candid photo of Jackson who is clearly drunk, but mistakenly leaves the flash on. Ally once again stands up for Jackson, whom she only met hours ago. Lady Gaga is the standout performer, naturally carrying the film throughout. Cooper’s performance, however, does shine in the second half as he portrays Jackson’s continued struggle with alcoholism and a declining career.
The musical performances are immersive, with “Shallow,” the duet that Jackson convinces Ally to perform which propels her career, being the most notable. Cooper shot many of the musical performances at various music festivals like Coachella and Glastonbury, adding to its realism. Several songs throughout the film will be stuck in your head long after leaving the theatre.
There are some obvious flaws in the second half of the film, as certain emotional moments feel rushed in the lead up to the tear-jerking conclusion. When compared to the other iterations of A Star is Born, Cooper’s does not stray away from the cemented plot that all the others share. It feels as if Cooper felt obligated to stick to the familiar narrative beats, sacrificing additional screen time of Jackson and Ally’s relationship that makes this version so engrossing.
There are some great nods to the three previous versions. The focus on Ally’s nose at the beginning of the film can be seen as a reference to the 1954 Judy Garland version when studio executives shared the same criticism. The Barbra Streisand 1976 iteration is also outwardly referenced, with the recreation of the famous bathtub scene this version is best known for. The line Jackson says after they part ways the first time they meet, “I just wanna take another look at you,” has been said in various ways throughout all four versions.
With its powerhouse performances and visceral music sequences, A Star is Born shines bright in the retelling of the decades old Hollywood story.