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A Star Is Born - Review (A Second Opinion)

A Star Is Born

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

BRADLEY Cooper makes a stunning directorial debut with A Star Is Born, an emotionally devastating rollercoaster of a journey that exhilarates as much as it devastates.

And while it is the third incarnation of the film (following notable 1954 and 1976 versions), Cooper’s film still has plenty to say – in keeping with the sentiments of one of its main protagonists.

Cooper ensures that the 2018 ‘cover’ is indicative of the times in which it is set. Hence, while there is undoubtedly the feel-good element of the rags to riches story under-pinning one half of its well-worn tale, there’s also a damning expose of modern celebrity, corporate greed and the destructive toll addiction can have on a career and a relationship.

As an actor himself, Cooper knows how to create a comfort zone in which his stars (himself included) can thrive. He’s not afraid to let a scene linger, or to focus his lens in close-up upon a face, thereby capturing moments of despair and/or elation in every nuanced detail.

As a result, his film has an emotional intensity that is hard to shake. It’s a rousing piece of entertainment that takes you on a real journey without betraying any of its characters motivations and feelings.

The story is simple enough. Jackson Maine (Cooper) is a massive country music star whose latter-day career is being propped up as much by reputation, drugs and booze as it is raw talent. Seemingly hell-bent on self-destruction, his life changes when he meets and subsequently falls in love with waitress Ally (Lady Gaga), who is a wannabe superstar singer in her own right.

But as he helps her star to rise spectacularly, his own career starts to derail and it’s a question of whether their love can save him before his demons get the better of him.

If the ensuing journey has a certain inevitability to it, as well as plot beats that have to be met, Cooper still manages to infuse the film with a vitality that’s utterly addictive in its own right, while bringing genuine depth to his characters and their journeys. And this applies as much to the key supporting players as it does to the two main leads. As a result, the film feels all the richer for it.

A Star Is Born

Cooper and Lady Gaga are both utterly mesmerising. The former lives and breathes Jackson Maine, from gravel voice to propped up walk and occasional swagger. You can practically smell the booze and sweat dripping off him at times. Yet while not afraid to show addiction at its selfish, despairing worst, viewers are left in no doubt as to the reasons behind it, or the fact that he desperately loves Ally. In that regard, it’s a heart-breaking performance that only gets sadder the longer it lasts (one can only imagine its impact second time around).

Gaga, meanwhile, somewhat predictably impresses during the songs, but brings both wide-eyed wonder to the early scenes matched with fiery intensity later on, as well as a deep sense of passion. You seldom doubt her devotion to Jackson. The two have terrific chemistry, whether blasting out songs or trading belated insults.

Of the supporting players, Sam Elliott arguably has his hands all over the best supporting actor statuette at next year’s Oscars for his similarly stunning turn as Jackson’s brother (two scenes, in particular, land hefty emotional blows), while Andrew Dice Clay is, by turns, nicely comic and strangely sympathetic as Ally’s father. Dave Chappelle also enjoys a couple of memorable key scenes as Jackson’s friend.

If Rafi Gavron perhaps feels a little too obvious and one dimensional as the film’s ‘villain’ (playing Ally’s corporate manager), the actor still does enough within that to ensure that you’re hissing at all the right times.

And even then, Cooper – who also co-wrote the screenplay – still uses it to drop astute observations on the price of fame and the stripping of individuality/personality that comes with certain kinds of success. Likewise, his depiction of addiction, which somehow sweeps you along with its giddy excess early on (as Jackson rediscovers his zest for life and Ally’s star is born), before delivering a cruel reality late on as things start to fall apart.

Add some brilliant use of songs (again, co-written by Cooper with Lady Gaga), and you have a terrific package – a remake that feels highly relevant, which also serves as a blisteringly intense love story and a deeply involving character study. Cooper has created something of a masterpiece.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 126 minutes
UK release date: October 3, 2018