A STAR IS BORN
Of course, we don’t “need” another version of A Star is Born. We don’t actually “need” beer, sausages, kittens or love. But the latest unveiling of the old warhorse – the fifth, by one measure – is so persuasive it takes on the flavour of necessity. Why would anyone choose to live in a world without it?
Leaning into Cooper like a bird investigating promising movements among the undergrowth, Gaga is exotic when she’s ordinary and rooted when she’s fantastic.
Bradley the actor is in top gear. Bradley the director is a less conspicuous presence, but nobody could question his professionalism.
Never mind that Jackson looks to have had a career more suited to someone at least 20 years his senior – the Allman Brothers perhaps – the rock songs still sound authentically aged. Gaga’s pop tunes are equally convincing.
A Star is Born offers evidence that there is still a corner of the entertainment industry that belongs to cinema alone. This delightful melodrama would make no sense as a TV series. It will play well enough when it arrives as the big Christmas telly event of 2019 (if there still are such things), but it is made for a big screen, big sound and the comforting sorrow of the communal sob.
As inevitably happens in stories like these, a downward turn must be taken. It’s the wisdom of this finely made movie (what an auspicious debut for Cooper the director – and thank goodness Clint Eastwood didn’t make this, as once planned) that it knows its own graceful weight, that it calibrates itself with such balance.
I’m tempted to say that, yeah, sure, there is a little cheesiness to be found in the movie. Because that’s how we’re supposed to love movies like this, with caveats and qualifications that show we’re aware that it’s all a little silly.
But you know what? I thought barely anything in A Star Is Born had an actual ring of hokiness or schmaltz. What I think is so often mistaken for that stuff is big, sincere, high-drama feeling, which the film has in abundance. I love the rhythm and rumble of this old story told well, so richly scored with song.
So many different stars are born-or at least reimagined-in Star Is Born that you leave with the lingering glow of a constellation still dazzling in your eyes. If that’s a corny thing to say, so be it. I’m far too swept away by this lovely and satisfying movie to care.
For maybe an hour or so, I was convinced that maybe Cooper had made the great, soulful Hollywood entertainment some have already called it.
I wish A Star Is Born preserved the laidback, naturalistic vibe of its first half, or that it somehow sustained the stirring high it reaches on stage with Ally and Jackson. All versions of this story reach a certain necessary comedown, as the rise portion of the evening ends and the fall begins.
But in Cooper’s film, it really is downhill from Shallow. Part of the problem, too, is that this Star Is Born is built on a false and rather tired musical dichotomy, positing Jackson’s generic Americana rock as some kind of inherently worthwhile alternative to pop music – a turn that asks Gaga to knock out a synthetic radio smash much flatter than her own actual pop smashes, and us to buy that a young artist of Ally’s evident integrity would fall in line behind the corny cliché of a British A&R bloodsucker (Rafi Gavron).
Still, Gaga keeps the film’s heart pumping. She’s down-to-earth and radiant – in other words, every bit as good as everyone has been saying. The movie isn’t, but the best moments echo loudly.
Cooper has made a jaggedly tender love story that is never over-the-top, an operatic movie that dares to be quiet. Ally has something that Jackson recognises because he used to have it too: the songwriter’s passion, the drive to take your own story and turn it into a jukebox poem. They have a great conversation about her Roman nose – which plays, knowingly, off the prejudices of the music industry that Gaga confronted on her way up. Ally thinks her nose is too big (or so she’s been told), but Jackson thinks it’s beautiful – and, of course, he’s right.
Does Jackson want Ally to become a star? Sort of. He’s the one who makes it possible, but after a video of their live duet goes viral, she’s approached after a show by a rock manager, Dez (Rafi Gavron), who gives her the I-can-make-you-a-star rap. Immediately, we know where this is going: to a place Jackson is not going to like. The manager represents the dissolution of Jackson’s sway over Ally, something the movie views in contemporary feminist terms. In his dissolute-rocker way, Jackson is grounded in the old male establishment, a place where Ally can be a “girl singer”. What he doesn’t realise is that she’s going to embrace stardom on her own terms, and they aren’t his.
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born.