There was a moment at the end of my A Star Is Born screening, when the film cut to black and the credits began to roll. You could feel the the entire room breathe out at once, so caught up in the drama and spectacle and heart of the previous two hours. Then, applause. That’s the magic of cinema right there.
All this to say that A Star Is Born is going to be a massive hit. Buzz coming out of festival screenings was not misplaced and, though it won’t be for everyone, it certainly does its darndest to win over even the most cynical of moviegoers. It’s the real deal, and effortlessly combines musical schmaltz with rock biopic prestige without compromising on either.
Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a famous musician spending his 40s performing the old hits and drinking himself into oblivion. He’s still making money, but he’s numb. That’s until he stumbles into a drag bar and sees Ally (Lady Gaga) perform, and a personal and professional obsession sets in. He wants to make her a star, and the pair quickly fall in love.
In different hands, the relationship between Jackson and Ally could easily come across creepy, but you sense that its part of the point. Jackson is not just past his prime, but also completely and utterly drowning, and Ally provides his life with meaning and purpose where he had none. When she transitions to the kind of Gaga-pop that we’re familiar with, he takes it as a personal attack. Healthy, this is not.
Much of the awards buzz surrounds director and star Cooper, of course, and this will surely cement the actor as a multi-threat talent to reckoned with. The direction is so assured and meticulous, sucking its audience in while also giving them a glimpse, just for a moment, of what it might be like to perform their songs to thousands of eager fans at Glastonbury. One of the finest moments of the film is when Ally walks onto the stage for the first time, covering her eyes as the size of what she’s doing threatens to overwhelm.
Gaga completely transforms herself for the role, which is no mean feat for a star whose entire career has been built upon artifice and shock value. A Netflix documentary and country-infused album Joanne may have added a different flavour, but it’s nothing compared to what she does here. For those who follow pop music Gaga’s public persona is a fun bonus feature of A Star Is Born, but her performance stands on its own.
Cooper has less to prove as a performer, but he’s no less impressive. All unwashed hair and scraggly beard, he conveys the anguish and shame of addiction that’s never once sexy or alluring. He’s a man in crisis, grabbing onto whatever sense of self he can find on the way down.
None of this would have worked had the music not been taken care of, and not only are Cooper and Gaga believable in their roles as old country rocker and undiscovered pop starlet, respectively, but you can see the songs becoming an extension of the film in a way few musicals achieve.
A Star Is Born is at times almost daring you to turn your nose up, either at its very existence of the earnestness in which it revels. At one key moment, it looks its would-be critics in the eye and essentially puts up a middle finger, lampshading its status as a remake of a remake. Yes, these twelve notes are familiar even to those of us who haven’t seen a previous version, but it’s how you play them that matters.
There’s a myth that refuses to go away, and that’s that big screen musicals are dead. Whenever one breaks through, which is every couple of years, we all act shocked. Like its central characters, A Star Is Born is at once a throwback and a modern meditation on men and the music industry, pop music versus ‘real music’, and whether you can (or should) ever really love someone enough to save them.
Do yourself a favour – go see this on the big screen with your partner, you friends, your mum or dad. A Star Is Born is an old-fashioned crowd pleaser made with modern pizazz and fresh eyes, and more than anything it just wants to show you a good time at the movies.
A Star Is Born is in UK cinemas from today.