Most movies are made by movie stars for people who are not movie stars. Most movies.
Now the third American remake of a story with more than one iconic interpretation, characters in Bradley Cooper’s version, which he wrote, directed, starred in and for which he took a lot of time out from making anything other than this (and voicing Rocket Raccoon), pointedly remind us, and then remind us again, that there are only so many notes to any song or story; what matters is how you tell it.
You have seen the likes of A Star Is Born time and time again. La La Land and Rock of Ages adopted bare elements of the premise to lesser effect, though what distinguishes A Star Is Born is not simply the execution of this effort nor its precursors, but their collective cache among the very souls it champions.
Hollywood loves talking about itself and those artists who propel it forward, as evidenced by umpteenth Oscar glories heaped on filmmakers who could reliably spin a yarn about their counterparts. A Star Is Born takes it further, at once contemplating the rush of arising fame, here given voice by the exceptional Lady Gaga, and the mortifying perils of falling out of favour, encapsulated by Cooper who has evidently put his heart and soul into his latest.
Something that has come to signify epochs of Hollywood with the same tale told so differently years over, there is no filmmaker however famous or successful who could not be labelled bold or audacious for bearing this torch. With some gumption Cooper rose to the task and he has welcomely excelled.
Focusing the action on Cooper’s alcoholic, seasoned performer and the talent he discovers in a bar in the guise of Gaga, the film is exactly that, focused, but not on what you might expect. Composed almost entirely of shots from the chest-up, Cooper, an actor’s Director with an evident emphasis on the performances on display, centres the action on his performers, what they clearly signify and indeed himself, to the exclusion of almost all else. Uncommonly, in a film concerned with increasingly large set-pieces and on-stage renditions, there is barely a shot of a discernible member of a crowd or from any crowd’s perspective.
For A Star Is Born is not about us, the fans en masse whom we barely encounter, or even in part Gaga’s Ally who at least at the outset remains as unfamiliar with the back-corridors of a stadium as most those who will watch this film. It is about Cooper’s fame-riddled Jackson Maine, the filmmaker here heavily relating much of his material and commentary on celebrity to a select few who will be able to identify with what Jackson goes through. To be sure the man’s drug and alcohol addictions are familiar topics for any drama, however never so much a focus as the rise and fall of Jackson’s notoriety and the considerably impactful conflict this and else engenders between the few characters the film preoccupies itself with.
And a drama this is and, curiously so, a musical drama. Replete with numbers, several are just phenomenal listening and advance the action with especial subtlety. The transitions between the film’s varied sequences it must be acknowledged are elegantly staged in a manner that is too afforded to the passing of large stretches of time and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it easing into songs. But for at these instances the singular focus on the tunes A Star Is Born would not be a musical though is clearly so and shrewdly without the self-conscious or all too typically obvious jumps to lyricism that would otherwise remove us from the more involving, emotional fare. As the film’s far and above best song reminds us, we’re far from the shallow now.
When you first hear Gaga sing this before a crowd, in a scene that has been featured in almost every piece of promotional material, you will get shivers; she is expectantly that good. Flexing her acting muscles as Gaga depicts Ally plucking up the courage to do so, a wordless, long-held shot on the actress ushering in this, the film’s best scene, is a sight to behold.
Cooper shows off his set of pipes and dramatic chops in a performance which will deservedly net him a Best Actor nomination, more than competently selling his rock star together with what will assuredly garner the eclectic filmmaker a shot at Best Director. The hazy and equally frenetic scenes of Cooper rocking out before a crowd are a delight, as is a tense sequence which makes amazing use of a well-known riff for dramatic effect.
Dave Chappelle turns up briefly in a quality though regretfully passing turn, one of what will hopefully be many more distinguishing parts. Sam Elliott is Sam Elliott, here afforded two very well staged emotional sequences amidst several nearing the film’s conclusion.
The story herein, whether it be explicitly that of these characters or it’s more rudimentary parts will inevitably be retold, and remade. Assured of another adaptation somewhere down the track, Cooper’s studied endeavour is of an estimable quality which will ensure we won’t see another A Star Is Born for a long time yet.
A Star Is Born is in cinemas from October 18