“…music is essentially 12 notes between any octave. Twelve notes and the octave repeats. It’s the same story told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer the world is how they see those 12 notes.” (Bobby A Star is Born 2018).
The fourth iteration of this tale since 1937, this diegetic musical (every version bar the first) brings something new to the party each time. This time Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, in his directorial debut, attempt to renew the emotional magic of the story, while cleaving closely to the previous incarnation.
Country music star Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) discovers a young struggling singer, Ally, working out of a bar. Recognising her talent, and bonding with her romantically, Jack introduces Ally (Lady Gaga) to the stage, launching her career. As their romance grows, Ally’s career blossoms, while Jack’s various addictions cause trouble with his own.
Over its 80 odd years of life, A Star is Born has brought us something different every time. This time we actually get more of a back story to Jackson Maine (the latest version of Danny/ John), deepening his character, giving the film an added pathos as the two careers diverge. It is as much Jackson’s story as it is Ally’s, a couple thrown together by their love of each other and music, and then cast onto the rocks by the pressures of stardom and the rise and falls of a career in the music industry. Cooper allows the character to grow and develop, giving us reason for the alcoholism and dependency that leads to Jack’s struggle. We empathise with the character more, seeing those pressures that have already deeply damaged him when the movie begins, and have concerns about Ally progressing through a similar career minefield, as she risks losing her identity to the industrial process of a manufactured pop star.
Cooper shows a deft hand here, capturing the rhythm of the piece. As a director he dips in and out of the story perfectly, giving us as much or as little as we need to convey the tale. He will linger on those emotional moments, or race through the construction of a career, with a superb sense of timing. However the heart of this film is the chemistry between the leads, and despite the role being a close match for the pop diva, Gaga delivers in spades. That she could capture that feeling of a performance to a mass crowd was never in doubt, but Lady Gaga bring a wealth of emotional nuance to her facial expressions during this. We can see the fears and anxieties, as well as the joy and exaltation of appearing in front of thousands, especially in Ally’s first appearance on stage for the duet of Shallow.
The result is a film that nails the emotional resonance of the story, while giving us an insight into the music industry, and capturing the roar of the crowd. Stellar stuff.