From the moment troubled rockstar Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) peels off fresh-faced Ally’s (Lady Gaga) eyebrow and strokes down the length of her nose, you get the impression that this is going to be your typical good girl meets bad boy and saves him from himself redemption arc. And for the most part, it does seem like A Star Is Born heading that way.
If you’re familiar with any of A Star Is Born’s previous versions – the 1937 original, it’s musical reimagining with Judy Garland in 1954, or the Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson’s rock industry tale of 1976 – then you may be aware of the film’s narrative progression, but without giving anything away, the 2018 version of A Star Is Born proves that some stories thrive on being retold over and over.
It’s the most recent Streisand-Kristofferson instalment that Bradley Cooper draws most from in his directorial debut. He plays a similar role to Kristofferson, a country-rock singer battling with losing his love of performing despite his popularity, who uses drugs and alcohol to keep himself going. His worsening tinnitus only adds to the struggle.
After stumbling off stage and into the closest bar – a roadside dive on drag queen performance night, if you were wondering about the aforementioned eyebrow peeling – Jackson discovers waitress and struggling singer-songwriter Ally performing a sultry take on La Vie en Rose.
After their night together ends in a supermarket carpark where Jack convinces Ally to perform a song that she’d written, it seems like their whirlwind may be over. But he sees in her what she struggles to see in herself – that not only is she a talented vocalist, she can also write real songs that connect with people.
So after convincing her to go to one of his shows, Jack pulls Ally onstage to perform that very song – yes he remembered the chorus and verse she’d written, and had arranged it into a whole song in just a few hours. That performance of Shallow is one of the hallmark musical moments of the entire film.
Guided by her straight-shooting manager Rez (Rafi Gavron), Ally takes the pop world by storm, and soon her heartfelt ballads are traded for choreographed dance moves and pop bangers – something Jack can’t bear to watch. She takes off as he crashes – and while this tried and possibly tired narrative can result in unbelievable melodrama, what Cooper has created is the opposite. A Star Is Born is heartfelt and heartbreaking, and if you can remain dry-eyed until the end of the credits you’re much stronger than us.
The supporting roles are also outstanding and help ensure this film isn’t just a tale of two star-crossed lovers. From the role of Jack’s brother Bobby, played by Sam Elliot, to Ally’s Sinatra-obsessed father Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay), the film relies on the rest of the cast as much as it does on its two stars.
Aside from the exceptional acting performances and heart-wrenching narrative moments, the soundtrack here is phenomenal. Right from the opening moments of the film, when Jack takes to the stage of a sold-out stadium, you know this film isn’t holding anything back in the music stakes. We didn’t know Cooper could sing so well, and watching him shred you’d struggle to believe he had to learn guitar specifically for the role.
We don’t need to prove Gaga’s vocal chops, but it’s the way she brings her own story and personal rise to stardom into Ally’s life that makes her character that much more authentic.
Bring your tissues and buckle in because A Star Is Born is one heck of a ride.
A Star Is Born is in cinemas now. Need any more convincing, we’ve got eight reasons for you right here.