What is it about A Star is Born that makes filmmakers so keen to revisit it?
It first saw the light of day in 1937, when Janet Gaynor and Fredrick March played the original star-crossed thespians. In 1954, Judy Garland spectacularly relaunched her career with it, starring opposite a ‘never-better’ James Mason. In 1976, Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson moved the action from the movie studios of Hollywood to the world of rock music (a version that I have yet to catch up with.) And now Bradley Cooper makes his directorial debut with a version that seems hewn from the same cloth as the the latter outing. Cooper stars opposite Lady Gaga, whose previous big screen appearances have amounted to a guest appearance on Muppets Most Wanted and the lacklustre sequel to Sin City.
Cooper plays ageing rock star, Jackson Maine, still gamely gigging around the world but beset by the twin demons of tinnitus and rampant alcoholism, with a few lines of cocaine chucked in for good measure. Stopping off at an LA drag bar one evening for a post-concert drink, he witnesses Ally (Lady G) performing a spirited rendition of La Vie En Rose and is instantly smitten by her. Fortunately, she is equally attracted to him. A whirlwind courtship ensues and, almost before we can draw breath, Ally and Jackson are an item, and the pair of them are performing at concerts across the USA, with Ally submitting some of her own songs to each show. Which is all well and good. But then, after one gig, she is approached by Rez (Rafi Gavron), a big time music promoter and a character so repellant that he manages to make us hate him before he’s even uttered so much as a word. Rez offers to make Allie a star. It will mean being styled and packaged, of course, but still, it’s what she’s always wanted, so… what could go wrong?
There are no great surprises here, mainly because the storyline is so familiar – and it’s hardly a spoiler to say that events are soon heading in the direction signposted ‘Tragedy, Arizona.’ Cooper does a great job with Maine, making us care about him even when he’s deep in the throes of his own self-destruction. Sam Elliott as his older brother/manager, Bobby, is good too, somehow managing to look not a day older than he did in The Big Lebowski, twenty-frickin’ years ago.
Okay, so this may not be the five star masterpiece that Garland’s version is. (This one does make me cry a couple of times, while the 1954 movie never fails to reduce me to a blubbering wreck.) But it is, nonetheless, a palpable hit, with decent songs that sound convincingly like proper chartbusters, some nicely sketched supporting characters – I particularly like Allie’s Sinatra-obsessed father, Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay) – and a timely updating from the Academy Awards to The Grammys, with an appearance on Saturday Night Live added to the mix.
The biggest revelation here is Lady Gaga, who is simply mesmerising, both when she’s singing and when she’s acting. At one point, Ally bemoans the fact that potential employers simply haven’t seen her as a good fit for a particular role. Is this what’s happened to Gaga herself in previous attempts to move her career into film? Whatever else occurs from hereon in, it would seem a bright future on the big screen is hers for the taking, if she decides she wants it.
A movie star is born.