Movie Review: A Star is Born

The much-hyped marketing juggernaut of A Star is Born 4.0 has arrived in Australia and it is everything and a bit less than expected. It’s Silver Linings Playbook meets Grace of My Heart with a splash of the tragic Leaving Las Vegas.

(If you’ve somehow missed the endless rounds of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga interviews or the three pervious versions) A Star is Born is the oft-told love story of a gifted, scrappy but plain woman who’s incredible talents are spotted by an older man who’s years’ past his peak and is actively masking a bleak reality with constant boozing and buckets of pills. As her star rises at light speed with his encouragement, his plummets into oblivion, despite their true love.

Ally (Lady Gaga) and Jackson Maine’s (Bradley Cooper) love is the centre of this film and its shown in every extreme close-up. Their faces fill the screen, vulnerable, hopeful and sweet. They are looking at each other but shot so that they’re staring at us. It’s deliberately sentimental and tragic but it’s powerful too, so it works in bringing us deep into their story at every stage.

This film is Bradley Cooper’s passion project (it even stars his own dog!) and as his first outing as director it’s stylised in some obvious ways that try a little too hard. If its not giant heads in extreme close-up on screen then Jack and Ally are standing in front of giant heads of Ally – either a billboard or a video projection of her enormous, soulful head. Once you see this you cannot unsee.  

There’s some symbolic lighting throughtout as well. While performing, the light on him is always blood red. There’s heavy use of red light throughout. She’s often shown lit cool blue or green. What does it mean? Who knows? But near the end there’s a scene where he turns on a light at home and it floods the scene red. Later we see blue flickering beside the solid red. It’s meant to be significant.

There’s also a sub-plot about her nose, a sexy bath scene paying homage to the 70’s Streisand version and a terrifically authentic fight scene where Ally’s vulnerability as a woman is shown with (I thought unnecessary) wet full frontal nudity while he’s fully clothed and incredibly cruel. Doesn’t matter, their scenes are hawt, believable and filled with chemistry. Her brown Bambi eyes full of devotion, his clear blue ones surrounded by sunburnt crinkles brimming with love… they sing, they emote. Who cares what they’re saying, what matters is what they’re singing!

It’s not surprising that Lady Gaga has done a great job at playing a musician on film, she follows in many famous footsteps from Beyonce in Dreamgirls to Madonna in Evita. What’s surprising is how well she disappears into early Ally, bare-faced and vulnerable, and then reemerges as a version of herself as a highly-stylised and made-up pop star. She’s like Stallone in Rocky I, before he was Stallone. Bradley Cooper too transforms but his performance is more obvious, more affected, but still Oscar-worthy.

You may not shed a tear but the music alone is worth it and I think some of the numbers will be classics well into A Star is Born 5.0 production. No doubt that version will be about the decline of the Youtube star and the rise of the Instrammer.  

All up, it’s a terrific piece of tragic entertainment and well worth a trip to the movies.

★★★ ½  Words by Irena Bee