Autumn is always a good time for films. As soon as the last of the summer sun is soaked up, the holiday makers return home, and the blockbuster credits roll, the media are tipping the ‘big movies of the year’ which lead us into awards season.
Working in a Theatre and cinema, I like to think I always have my finger on the pulse of what’s new and upcoming in the arts. A Star is Born, was one that completely surprised me. Having only heard a little of the story, it being widely advertised as the new ‘lady gaga’ film, I was not in a hurry to see it. Yet due to a friend’s recommendation and a chance evening free, I found myself watching the film within its first week of release. During that 140 minutes, I was completely blown away by both Gaga and Bradley Cooper, who portray beautifully and unforgettably, the story of the rise and fall of fame, and the effect of the limelight on love and relationships. I can already imagine the emotional acceptance speeches at this year’s Oscars ceremony. It really was that good.
This is the fourth version of the film, which originated in 1937, based on a story by William A Wellman and Robert Carson, the screenplay was written by Dorothy Parker and Alan Campell. The 1937 film starred Janet Gaynor as an aspiring starlet and Rochard Marsh as an actor whose career is in jeopardy due to his alcoholism. It was then re-made in 1954, starring Judy Garland (of Wizard of Oz fame) and again in 1976, now set in the world of music, with Barbara Streisand and kris kristofferson, in perhaps the most recognised edition.
It is a fairly simple premise, famous rock star meets a talented young singer, they fall in love, but become threatened by the changing fates of fame, and their own personal demons. The two leads are perfectly cast to portray the story with great emotion and depth, they have fantastic chemistry and musical talent, their voices blending effortlessly. Cooper is also director, producer and a screenwriter of the film and in an impressive director debut, manages to portray the feel of celebrity life, the reaction of the crowds and atmosphere of the music gigs with great effect. Walking away from the cinema, it was hard to believe the story isn’t real. Although perhaps, in a way, it is. It’s a realistic representation of life in the public eye, of the fleeting world of music and celebrity, of the humanity behind the personas and the struggle to maintain an ordinary life and relationship. It’s very suitable for a modern audience.
We are immediately thrown into the spotlight at the beginning of the film, where we see Cooper as Jackson Maine at the height of his fame. He sings and plays guitar live on stage to an audience of thousands, before wiping the sweat from his face and running a hand through his shoulder length wavy hair (Cooper looks rough and rugged throughout) then jumping in a cab and finishing off a bottle of alcohol. Not content with this being the end of his night, he finds himself at a drag bar where Gaga’s character Ally is performing. This begins their meeting and a very bumpy journey through fame and out the other side. Early scenes did seem quite strange at times. Perhaps reflecting the awkward meeting of two people from very different lives, who barely know each other but feel drawn together. Jack talks about Ally’s nose, asking can he touch it and saying it should have its own spotlight. Ally punches a man in a bar for wanting to take Jack’s picture just to prove his girlfriend’s new man doesn’t look like the star, then Jack tapes a bag of frozen peas to her hand. These scenes, seem to show Jack’s vulnerability and a softer side to the rock star, while opening Ally’s world of music and songwriting. Later they sit in an empty car park and talk about music. Jack immediately seems taken with Ally and from then on he doesn’t quit until she follows him on his tour.
I like that we see Ally (Gaga too) looking natural and girl-next-door like at the beginning of the film. Her gradual transformation to a full-blown pop star is fascinating and very convincing. Even the music that she sings and how it changes when she becomes signed by an Agent, adding dance moves and dancers to her routines. In early scenes she talks about her nose, how she’s been told she doesn’t look the part. There are huge echoes of Gaga’s own experience and anxieties here, as well as the true workings of the film and music industry. Gaga manages to take us on a journey so that as Ally changes and grows with confidence, so do we. This is set alongside Jack’s fall in fame, his struggle with drug and alcohol addiction and his crippling jealousy of the star he discovered.
At the heart of the story is the love the two characters share with each other. They are inseparable and this shows us the dangers of being in such an all-consuming relationship, the pressures of fame and addictive quality of life on the road. While Ally adapts and grows under the spotlight, Jack has become consumed by it and the only way he can cope is by drinking and drug taking, as his career continues to fall.
The final quarter of the film is extremely thought-provoking and hard-hitting. For those who don’t know the story, like myself, it comes as a shock. I challenge anyone not to cry in the final scenes. It is here that Gaga’s voice is truly showcased. The music is incredible throughout, all original tracks written by many talented musicians including Mark Ronson and Diane Warren, accompanied by Gaga and Cooper’s stunning voices. The chemistry they provide is the heart of the film and it’s their story, as Jack and Ally, that stays with you, long after you’ve left the cinema.