Dir: Bradley Cooper Starring: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Anthony Ramos, Rafi Gavron, Dave Chappelle. Cert tbc, 135 mins.
According to old Hollywood lore, there are only seven basic plots in the whole world — plots that are recycled again and again, stories that transcend time-worn clichés, only to seemingly become more robust after every outing. ‘A Star is Born’ is one of those evergreens, a rag to riches story about ingénues and their mentors, a version of Cinderella with a guitar strapped on its back. If it ain’t broke, there’s nothing left to fix but director Bradley Cooper takes a familiar idea and suffuses it with passion, conviction and a triumphant and luminous performance by Lady Gaga.
The reason why ‘A Star is Born’ has undergone as many rebirths as it has because it’s a story about its own manufacture, as if Hollywood is staring through the mirror and taking stock of itself. The notion of what it means to become a star (or what aspires to become one) has changed throughout the years and Cooper effortlessly guides his story into the 21st century. Cooper portrays Jackson Maine, a Country-and-Western singer with a leathery voice and a penchant for popping pills and hitting the bottle. One night he inadvertently stumbles into a drag queen bar where he locks eyes with Gaga’s Ally during a sultry rendition of Edith Piaf’s ‘La Vie en Rose’. What follows is a film that dazzles through the highs and lows of fame and stardom, heartbreak and passion, a tear-soaked love ballad that manages to exhilarate at every turn.
The film’s version of the traditional meet cute is what breathes the oxygen through the film’s weathered longs. It’s a moment that electrifies, the kind of cinema that delivers clammy hands and sweaty palms. Or the moment in which Main invites Ally on stage. Even the most stone-cold cynic has to admit that it’s that scenes like these are the scenes we go to the movies for: Cinema boosting emotional grandeur with a palpable sense of affection of chemistry. Lady Gaga brings her own persona and baggage as a pop star on board, which not only gives the film a metatextual reading on the notion of fame, but also allows the audience to discover how film stars ARE actually born. Gaga shines with an intoxicating performance but is easily matched by Cooper’s crooner, lowering his voice by an octave to a low and throaty growl. A Star is Born boosts an almost olde worlde sense of chemistry between its two leads, vividly lensed by cinematographer Matthew Libatique whose camerawork lends the film its emotional candour.
Ultimately the film doesn’t really venture into new and uncharted recounts of a well-worn formula, but what it does it does with heart, panache and soul. A Star is Born is a ballad for the ages.