Some films don’t need an elaborate script, or stylish editing, or flawless pacing to be deeply impactful. Some films incorporate such a heavy amount of passion that the cage of perfectionism falls away to allow an audience to simply feel their way through the story, forgiving a few technical flaws due to sheer emotional impression. Some films present themselves as they are, with all their rough edges, building towards a breathtaking payoff that will provoke tears in the eyes of even the most detached viewer.
These are my favourite kind of movies, and A Star is Born is one of them.
That is not to say that Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut is poorly-made. After a rocky start that features a bit too much story exposition, the film settles into its stride. From direction, to lighting, to editing, all elements fulfill the roles they need to play perfectly to bring together a well-worn story for a fresh audience. The true pull of A Star is Born, however, is the dynamic chemistry of its two stars, and the freedom they are given to shine as two irresistibly likable performers.
Most of the critical acclaim has been lavished upon Lady Gaga, and every inch of praise is well-deserved. Ally is quick-witted and hot-tempered, extraordinarily loving and open-hearted, popular with her drag queen friends and her close-knit family equally. She exudes youthful likability from the moment she appears on screen, breaking up with a lawyer boyfriend via phone and screaming expletives to herself in the bathroom. After meeting Cooper’s Jackson Maine, a roguish rockstar with a drinking problem and an eye for talent, Ally quickly finds herself embroiled in the world of record contracts and global tours. As we follow her through her rise to stardom, each milestone feels like a personal achievement, with the honest thrill of her reaction so genuine that it calls to mind Gaga’s own rocket to fame not so long ago.
Her first performance (in a venue larger than a drag bar, anyway) forms the initial peak of the movie, and makes way for a scene perfectly arranged to show off the facets of Ally’s unrivaled stage presence, with a duality of vulnerability and passion that kickstarts her journey as a worldwide star. She raises her hands to her face as she sings, a half-hearted attempt to shy away despite the lion’s roar that is her incredible voice. For Ally has always been assumed too unattractive for the industry; in this moment, as in every moment in the film, she is completely and utterly beautiful.
As word spreads and her popularity rises, Ally remains the magnetically lovable girl-next-door in all means but her new-found superstar lifestyle. Her family excitedly gather around a phone to watch her performance on YouTube some 200-odd times, a heartwarming reminder of the love that surrounds our protagonist. The achievements rack up as the months pass, with record deals and Grammy nominations producing the same shocked look of pure delight upon Ally’s face – she is living her dream, and we are right there with her every step of the way. Even when life takes a turn for the worst and the inevitable problems come knocking at Ally’s door, Gaga remains unfazed. If anything, she is even more impressive in these moments of anguish, matching the skills of her more experienced co-stars to deliver a fully well-rounded character.
After such a remarkable performance, Gaga will be the movie star she deserves to be; the experienced Cooper tactfully never outshines her, but instead allows his seasoned, gravelly presence to perfectly harmonise with hers. Jackson is a walking cliche in many ways – having lost his parents at a young age, he copes with his hardcore lifestyle through substance and alcohol abuse. Ally provides a much-needed shot of stability, exposing a gentle side of Jackson, a side which craves domesticity and affection. Jackson’s support of Ally’s success cements them as a couple the audience can root for as more than just an attractive pairing. As they grow into their relationship, they become two uniquely talented strands that weave together to form something even stronger.
In less careful hands, Jackson could easily have been little but an irritating trope, eclipsed by Ally’s natural charm, but Cooper imbues his character with just enough humanity to prevent this. Jackson is deeply flawed, yet his love for Ally shines through in his darkest times, which allows the audience to forgive even his worst mistakes. His backstory, though bordering on melodramatic at times, is never used as an excuse for his wrongdoings, and simply provides an explanation for the facets of his character.
Indeed, Cooper has been pushed aside a little in the overwhelming buzz around Gaga, but just as Jackson understands and nurtures Ally’s raw talent, Cooper facilitates his co-star’s rise to critical acclaim both as an actor and a director. He forms the body of the film, with Gaga the beating heart, providing a note-perfect performance that perfectly parallels the pop star’s earnest charisma. Awards will come in their droves for both this Oscar season, with adulation and deep-felt respect in equal measure. A Star is Born may not be the best film of the year, but it will be one of the most memorable in its sheer dynamism, and perhaps that’s what matters most in the end.