A remake of a remake of an original film is never a good sign. A remake of a remake of an original film being led by Rocket Racoon and the 00’s favourite meat-dress-toting singer should be further warning signs. But boy am I glad to say that you should ignore those warning signs. I urge you, for all that is holy, to go to the cinema right now and experience this film.
A Star Is Born 4.0 fires on all cylinders from its opening sequence. We open to Cooper’s Jackson Maine, an established-yet-troubled country/rock artist, delivering an electrifying onstage performance of ‘Black Eyes’, the first of 18 original, goosebump-inducing songs written for the film by Cooper and Gaga themselves. It became very quickly apparent that this film was going to, to put it politely, fuck me up. It would be an absolute bummer if a film about music had bad music, but in this song, the film’s heart and soul are perfectly encapsulated. Special mentions have to go to ‘Shallow’ and ‘I’ll Never Love Again’, well done, you made me cry. Every song hits like a bullet to the chest, they’re powerful and empowering and reflect the raw, visceral nature of the relationship depicted onscreen.
It’s a real struggle to try to imagine this film starring two other actors. It was destined for Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga to bring this narrative to life because they have the most honest, believable and beautiful chemistry that I can’t say I’ve seen in any other film. Their love, passion and adoration for both each other and their artform feels so real, to the point where, if you knew nothing about the film, you could be convinced that you’re watching a very personal documentary such as Asif Kapadia’s ‘Amy’. Their performances and chemistry could carry this film alone, however, it doesn’t stop there. You have these moments of sheer intimacy between the leads where the camera will hone in on a gentle touch of a finger or the holding of a hand. The sound drops out, the music intensifies and you’re in the moment and it really accentuates the genuine bond being built between Cooper’s Jack and Gaga’s Ally.
Cooper’s performance is incredibly raw and brutally honest and his direction behind the camera is just as good, if not better. For a directorial debut to be handled with such a confidence is a huge achievement, especially in this age of studio-led dumpster fires. There’s a pleasant reliance on visual storytelling and Cooper establishes trust with the audience through this. We are very rarely told huge pieces of information through dialogue-heavy expository scenes. One or two do occur towards the film’s climax and they do stick out, but only slightly – it’s almost forgivable for all of the excellence that has come before it.
The film’s aesthetic and cinematography are thought out so precisely to create this documentary-esque realism that furthers the honesty of the film. Cooper stated at Venice Film Festival that the look of the film was inspired by a Metallica concert he saw when he was six years old and this truly holds up throughout the film. Take the lens flares and the hyper-freneticism of the camera in the film’s opening sequence, the fact that they shot on location at a number of festivals including Glastonbury and Coachella, or the live vocal performances, you can see that realism was on the forefront of Cooper’s mind and he knew how essential this would be to making the film as honest and as successful as possible. And he was right.
However, despite Cooper’s remarkable debut at multi-tasking, it has to be Gaga who takes the crown (and hopefully the Oscar – genuinely, if you told me ten years ago that I would be screaming for Lady Gaga to take home the golden statuette, I would have told you to get in the bin). Both musically and theatrically, she shines as bright as a star (is born… I’m sorry), her voice is one of the most powerful I’ve heard in a long, long time and every vocal performance she gives in the film perfectly encapsulates both the passion for music her character has and the amount of passion she brings to the role of Ally. I underestimated her, and if I were wearing a hat right now, I would be eating it.
For a film in its fourth iteration you could expect it to be relatively stale, or even a bit outdated, but luckily it’s far from that. It was a pleasant surprise to see how honest, accepting and modern its viewpoint was when it came to its depiction of themes such as mental health, addiction and substance abuse. The film never scrutinises its characters for the decisions they make, it just portrays them as they are, without any edge or prejudice. It’s tough to go into this topic without giving away too much about the film’s plot so I’ll do my best to keep it brief but when certain events take place, another film might’ve used this to turn the character into an antagonist but here, it does almost the opposite and the depth of other characters is increased too, due to the way they react. In doing so, these rich, multi-dimensional characters are created and then portrayed with extreme rawness by the actors and it just goes to show how much thought has gone into the script, the direction and the performances.
Sadly, I do have a nag about the film. It’s minor in the sense that it didn’t cause me to hate the film or change my opinion too drastically, but the size of the impact it has on the film narratively means I can’t ignore it (I know, I know, I’m sorry). Once again, it’s hard to go into it too much without spoiling it so I’ll keep it at this: some characters seem a little underdeveloped and when they’re placed alongside a number of brilliantly acted, gorgeously written, multi-dimensional characters, it’s tough to ignore the fact that they seem to embody generic and stereotypical plot devices. But that’s it. The rest is some of the best filmmaking I’ve seen all year. Bravo.
The final verdict
An incredibly emotional, honest and raw film which left me shaken. The performances are top-tier and the filmmaking behind it is just as good, if not better. You won’t see characters better written than this for a long, long, long time. So, go and see this at the first chance you get. Treat yourself. Thank me later.
9 Lady Gaga “OHHH AHHHHHH OHHH OHHH OHHH AHHH AHHH” power ballads out of 10.