Film and TV Editor Christina Riley reviews the third remake of A Star is Born, directed by Bradley Cooper who also stars alongside Lady Gaga. 

2018’s A Star is Born sees an old classic brought into the modern world. With the 1937 original starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March previously remade twice with stars such as Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand, director and male lead Bradley Cooper had a tough feat ahead of him, and only exceeded expectations. Already an acclaimed actor, Cooper brought his role as Jackson Maine to new heights as his character struggled with many of the same demons he fought himself early in his career. Drawing on these experiences was quite possibly what encouraged him to give what is perhaps the best performance of his career to date. Starring alongside him as Ally, Lady Gaga gave an equally compelling performance, which was surpassed only by her breathtaking vocals.

The dynamic music and lighting of Jackson Maine’s concert set the initial tone, making the audience believe they were part of a rock concert with electrifying instrumentals pounding through the speakers. Cooper’s singing voice was an incredible shock to many who remember him as a lovable, sarcastic character in The Hangover series. Adopting his new role as a singer seemed effortless, and the juxtaposition between his gritty vocals and Gaga’s hauntingly beautiful rendition of ‘La Vie en Rose’ blended into mesmerising duets and a heated onscreen romance. When seeing them performing together, chills were felt down spines, goose-bumps on arms, and tears streaming from eyes; the musical composition was truly special to witness. Their duets were authentic, sweaty, and raw – translating into Jackson and Ally’s passion for each other, and above all for music. The cut guitar string which Jackson proposed with summed up perfectly the relationship between the two both on and off screen; Ally and Jackson found love through music, while Cooper and Gaga’s musical experiments was what encouraged backing for the film’s production. Whenever Ally sings, Jackson’s face conveys an admiration and awe that echoes the sentiments of their audience; it is a reaction so unmistakable and full of love, that it is one that cannot be faked. It is easy to discern Cooper’s acting from truth and above all that was what was conveyed through his and Gaga’s onscreen relationship – there is clearly a deep love and respect for each other as friends, and as artists.

At times, following the rock star throughout his tour was reminiscent of watching a music documentary, a genre that is no stranger to the silver screen. This decision enhanced Ally’s argument that no-one wanted to know Jackson as a person, to ask how he was, and thus while concert footage suggests that with fame comes endless parties, friends and relationships, we see that Jackson is isolated from everyone until Ally becomes a part of his life and career. Cooper’s creative skill in directing allowed the story to become believable and completely honest all while being executed to perfection, showcasing both the good and the volatile aspects of fame. Exercising his exceptional talents as not only an actor, but filmmaker too, Cooper experimented with genre to create a dichotomy between on and off-stage personalities, which become more and more conflated throughout as Jackson’s addictions become increasingly dangerous. It is here that we see the documentary of Jackson’s musical career come to almost a complete halt while Ally’s takes off. Therefore, his death shows the ultimate price stars pay with the pressures of constant expectations and an elevated status to almost super-human; Jackson’s episode at the Grammys while his wife picks up an award and he urinates next to her onstage, and the events which transpire afterwards, is indicative of a spotlight which is unrelenting and unforgiving, this moment essentially becoming the decider of his fate.

The culmination of Jackson Maine’s life is punctuated by a dramatic light sequence in which the family home is illuminated in flashing red and purple hues following his wife Ally’s stage performance. Death is thus his last performance, one in which he shows his darkest feelings, and his deepest love, however twisted his logic. Spurred on by Ally’s manager who insists he does not want Jackson around her and her success, Jackson’s suicide is mourned for the loss of a great talent, but only second to the regret and sorrow for the loss of a kind, loving and troubled man. His question to Ally in ‘Shallow’, “tell me something girl, are you happy in this modern world?” can be applied to the corporate music world which exacerbated Jackson’s personal traumas and changes the tone of Ally’s music career from singer/songwriter to a media sensation and popstar – her fame reliant on image more than sound. As we see the end of one career and life, and the beginning of another, we are left with the question if this is bound to become a toxic cycle.

Ultimately, it was the passion emanating from A Star is Born which left a mark on its audience. A deeply moving watch, the personal struggles of Jackson and Ally, as well as their tumultuous relationship allowed each member of the audience to relate to the very real characters created; whether through plot or lyrics, a kinship was forged. Thus, the personal touches to the film allowed both filmmakers, actors and singers to create a beautiful piece, and a true testament to their talent as artists.

Stars: ****