I’ve never been great with trends, so I was a little late to the craze surrounding “A Star Is Born.” While waiting meant that I got to take in Bradley Cooper’s (COL ’97) directorial debut outside the bulk of all the madness, the film had a massive reputation to live up to. Yet, since Cooper has had experience on the sets of a variety of enthralling projects, I had no doubt in my mind that he would be able to execute something special. The film brings together the narratives of two characters, a famous rock star and a defeated aspiring musician. Jackson Maine, played by Cooper, is a successful rockstar dealing with the weight of his fame. One night after performing, he stops by a drag bar and sees a performance by waitress and singer-songwriter Ally, played by Lady Gaga. Mesmerized by her voice, Jackson invites her to his next concert and brings her onstage to sing with him. From here, the two fall in love and begin travelling and performing together. Ally, overwhelmed by the public response to her music, decides to launch her own career with another record producer. Jackson and Ally become more entrenched in their own individual worlds, as Ally continues to pursue her solo career and Jackson spirals into a severely depressed and lonely state of mind. The main triumph of the film is how Cooper constructs the progression of Jackson and Ally’s relationship. The first few scenes expose the audience to Jackson’s under-the-spotlight lifestyle, which he tries to drown out with alcohol. Yet the audience is introduced separately to Ally, who stresses about her future and struggles with self-confidence issues after years of being rejected by the industry. As Jackson is driven home from a concert, he drinks excessively and has the driver stop at a bar so he can keep going. Ally’s performance distracts him from the very reason he ended up at the bar — as though the film is telling us she might be his way out of addiction. It’s not long before Jackson and Ally start performing together, bridging their individual lives into what becomes, for a while, a harmonious picture. Yet, what is so gut-wrenching about their chemistry and their happiness is that the audience is fully aware that trouble will find them. Because we are given such a solid understanding of both characters and their individual flaws early on in the script, co-written by Cooper, the audience is set up to fear what will happen once those flaws are directly experienced by the other character — someone who is not merely a passive onlooker in his or her life. The film provokes intense audience investment because we are compelled to assess what is wrong with these characters and predict how those traits will appear later on, as the characters’ limitations are brought to light in the eyes of the person they love. The relationship between Jackson and Ally is so captivating and feels so natural because the stages of its evolution connect seamlessly. While the performances from both Cooper and Gaga are impressive, poignant and full of raw emotion, the pacing also allows for ample development of each phase of their connection. As Jackson and Ally begin to diverge in their musical careers, moments of tension between them arise that feel not only authentic, but also necessary. In one scene, Jackson comes home after seeing one of Ally’s rehearsals and finds her taking a bath. They get into a heated, personal argument that reveals the severity of Jackson’s alcoholism and Ally’s search for approval as a rising artist. Feeling betrayed by her decision to launch her own career and, in his view, throw away her talents to the superficial world of pop music, he lashes out and calls her ugly, preying on one of her deepest insecurities from years of being told that she could not make it in the industry because of her appearance. Taken at face value, this scene may feel too jarring, but the buildup of Jackson’s substance abuse, Ally’s independence and the intensity of the industry makes this moment an unavoidable crest: As their love grows, so does their ability to hurt one another. Audiences can easily conclude that “A Star is Born” will go down in history — and not just because this remake marks the fourth iteration. This particular version of the classic story produces an earnest look into a passionate relationship marred by the tension between what is and what could be. In an explosion of sound, spirit and storytelling, “A Star is Born” meets its reputation head-on.
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