FOR SO LONG, we’ve marvelled at the whizzbangerie, the pomp and glittering theatricality of Lady Gaga. But who knew she could evoke such raw, honest passion in a song? Who knew she could act as well as she did? Bradley Cooper (for me) cemented his A-class acting chops on American Hustle; but who knew he too could belt out a melody like this? (And not the half-assed pass-for-singing Ryan Gosling offered in La La Land). Who knew he could direct?
A Star is Born (version 4) has offered us two new stars, reborn in a new light in this immensely likeable movie. We witness the downward spiral of Bradley’s character, Jack, a charismatic rock star cowboy who falls head over heels for Ally, (Gaga), a waitress moonlighting as a singer in a Trans club. His search one night, after the adrenaline and energy of a concert, for a drink finds him both the drink and the woman he’ll shepherd to stardom and fall in love with.
The drink becomes his demon; the woman becomes for a while, his saviour.
As his star declines and hers rises, the story examines the delicate balance between artistic authenticity and commercial image making. Both Jack and Ally are fighting against their own personal imperfections: he has to fight his way past his failing hearing and his tinnitus; she has to overcome her looks. To Jack, she’s beautiful; to her, her nose is too big; to the industry she’s just not right.
Jack’s intention is for Ally to be the master of her own story, her own voice. He tries to shape her to always remain authentic to herself. But it is the shaping influence of her manager that succeeds. She is turned into brand and that creative soulful honesty is reshaped by her manager (Rafi Gavron) who turns her into a mix of Madonna and Beyoncé. A star may have been born, but marketing has determined its make up.
Jack however remains the tortured hard drinking cowboy, untamed by success. The last twenty minutes of the movie focuses on him, the doomed existential hero destined to ride out into the sunset. Perhaps it’s an ironic comment on America itself
In a sense, Ally the person remains a tender, loyal loving partner, and caring daughter (much is made of their contrasting family histories) still capable of finding something worthwhile to say. Ally the Star is a success but an unreal creation moulded to please a fickle crowd.
So though it’s a story about creativity, fame, success and music, perhaps it’s also really a sly and cynical look at how we all curate our own inner stars: either stay authentic and court, at best, modest success or be the brand you need to be. Screw authenticity. Your star is waiting to be born.
The chemistry between the two principals is tangibly strong. The directing really lulls you into the feeling that the intensity between the characters is shared by the actors. Only just acting folks. Maybe.
Bradley Cooper’s directing feels exciting and fresh. Certainly the opening scenes (some actually filmed live at Glastonbury) drops the viewer into the energy, sweat and sexuality of rock star performing. Cooper (who co-wrote) develops his story through a series of contrasts that build the tale. We shift from his ear-bursting sell-out stadium crowds to her quiet performance in the sleazy Trans club. He’s singing of his life; she’s singing a French pre war tune…too shy to sing from her heart. As she becomes more and more surrounded by handlers, he becomes more and more alone. And yet, though these two lives really operate on increasingly different planes, the love that binds makes nonsense of the differences.
The music is tremendous. Cooper and Lady Gaga are credited with writing most of the songs (along with a suite of others). So along with directing and singing, Bradley Cooper can now also add song writing, and screenplays to his CV.
Take a bow Bradley
A STAR IS BORN. Dir: Bradley Cooper. With: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, , Sam Elliott, Greg Grunberg, Dave Chapelle, Cinematography: Matthew Libatique (Mother!), Writers: Eric Roth (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) , Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters