A Star Is Born (2018)

A Star Is BornDirector: Bradley Cooper
Running Time: 136 Minutes
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle, Andrew Dice Clay, Anthony Ramos, Bonnie Somerville, Michael Harney, Rafi Gavron

Bringing the tale to the 21st century, Bradley Cooper makes his directorial debut with A Star Is Born. Marking the third remake of the 1937 film, this reviewer cannot comment on any comparisons between the iterations, due to not having seen the prior films. However, judging this on its own terms, it's evident that Cooper has delivered a strong directorial debut right out of the gate.

After performing at a concert, seasoned musician Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) goes to a bar. While in there, he finds himself blown away by a singer named Ally (Lady Gaga), as well as falling for her. Jackson helps the struggling singer into the spotlight, and as her career takes off, his alcoholism sends his career into a downward spiral.

The film opens on Jackson Maine, as he comes on stage to perform for a large audience. In those first moments, Cooper puts viewers at ease with a fantastic musical showing, but also grants them what they need to know about our protagonist. He's happy to put on a persona for the audience, signified by him taking off his hat before playing, but is coping with his own demons, which he combats with alcohol. It later becomes clear that this stems from a troubled past involving his father, which has also impacted upon his relationship with his older brother (powerfully portrayed by Sam Elliott).

Cooper has long shown himself to be a magnificent talent on-screen, but upon witnessing his performance here, it's evident to see how far he's come since his breakthrough role in The Hangover. Jackson utterly believes that, to have the platform he has, it must be used to say something with meaning, a method he puts to work through his songs, and when those lyrics escape his mouth, you believe each word that he sings. But no matter how many smiles he puts on among others, no matter how charming he comes across to those around him, there's an underlying sadness beneath, and this is put across in astonishing fashion. It's a performance that can be marked as one of his best, and for good reason.

But as hard as he works in-front of the camera, he puts in just as much effort behind it. The way Cooper directs the concert scenes, it's almost as though you're actually there yourself. You feel the energy brought on by the cheering audience, as the power of the musical moments is tremendously captured. This is all enhanced by the gorgeous cinematography of Mathew Libatique, and it makes for some of the most stunning scenes viewed in a 2018 film.

In her first major Hollywood role, Lady Gaga pours her all into the role of Ally. An aspiring singer-songwriter, she has a powerful voice to match her own written lyrics, but when she performs, it's clear to see the nerves, and uncertainty in her early performances. She may be a successful musical artist in real life, who's performed at numerous concerts to countless fans, but Gaga puts forward a fantastic performance, and disappears into the role.

While she's unsure of how to approach her rising fame, and remain true to who she is, Ally never allows it to go to her head. After so many instances of hurtful feedback about her appearance, she remains taken aback when a young girl calls her beautiful. As her star takes off, we see a clear contrast between the trajectories of these two characters, as Jackson finds his popularity waning. Refreshingly, there's no room for petty jealousy here, as he's firstly intent on supporting his partner, and puts her needs and feelings first. Outside of the leads wonderful chemistry, it's little touches like this which help sell the relationship, and make it easier to get on-board with their burgeoning romance.

But the real star of this film are the songs. These aren't a series of interchangeable tunes which could be taken out of the film, they're absolutely integral to the plot. Be it the love they share, or the want for change, and the subsequent difficulty which comes from achieving that goal, these lyrics get to the heart of Jackson and Ally, all while set to spectacular musical accompaniments. Rest assured, these tunes especially stand well on their own, and are destined to be played on repeat all over, with Shallow absolutely destined to be the breakout tune. I'd be surprised if it didn't get nominations come awards season.

Dave Chappelle turns up to deliver a memorable, and heartfelt, turn as a close friend of Jacksons, while Andrew Dice Clay does tremendous work in the role of Ally's father. These supporting turns allow viewers to see other sides to the leads, while being great characters in their own right, as opposed to merely plot devices. If there was a weak point, it lays in Ally's manager, portrayed by Rafi Gavron. The character represents the oft-portrayed manager who listens to their own interests, as opposed to their clients, while veering on the edge of being a tad too moustache twirling. Though, it must be said, this remains a mere quibble in an overall astonishing picture.

A confident directorial debut from Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born also contains impressive lead performances, an emotionally affecting tale, and some of the years best songs. From the opening which will leave one at ease, to the deeply felt finale, this is one for the ages.