Saturday 17 November 2018

Film Review: A Star is Born

It's the film that's already a lock for practically every Oscar, if film news sites are to be believed. But does the 2018 iteration of A Star Is Born - which stars Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga - live up to the sky-high hype?

After a much-needed hiatus (this author has been feeling markedly less fuzzy over the last month), I summoned the strength to visit the cinema and check out the film that critics have been raving about for what feels like an eternity.

Co-written, directed and starring Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born follows Jackson Maine (Cooper), an alcoholic country music star who is slowly sliding into obscurity and mediocrity.

Sloshing aimlessly from gig to gig, Maine drowns his sorrows in booze, bouncing from bar to bar. However, it's in one of these bars that the stars align and he meets Ally (Gaga), a waitress/songstress with big dreams but no means to chase them. The two strike up something a little more than friendship, and Ally soon finds herself joining Maine onstage at one of his concerts - quite literally thrust into the spotlight. From here her rise to stardom is meteoric - but not without its challenges.

There is a lot to love about A Star Is Born, if you cast aside the inherent contradiction of a remake of a remake of a remake preaching about originality. At the end of the day, Cooper has effectively and efficiently adapted a tried-and-tested idea into a 21st century context - what would it be like for a nobody to shoot to stardom nowadays?

The best part is, Cooper manages this while sidestepping some naff visual cues like YouTube view counters and head-spinning montages that throw headlines, magazine covers and newsreaders at you. He captures the same sense of urgency and momentum by turning the camera back on his characters and reading their starstruck faces.

At its core, A Star Is Born works as well as it does because of its lead duo. Cooper, who also excels behind the camera at his first attempt, cuts a tragic figure as the washed-up crooner who is searching for something at the bottom of the bottle. From the accent to the stooped hunch as he lurches across the room, it's a rounded and complete performance.

However, appropriately, it's the titular star herself who steals the show. Aside from a few appearances on American Horror Story, A Star Is Born marks Gaga's first full tilt at acting, and she disappears into the role of Ally. Stripped of her ostentatious music persona, Gaga perfectly captures the nerves, bravery and eventually the confidence of a nobody plucked from obscurity and thrust into the limelight. She has the widest arc to travel as a character and she nails every step along the way.

The music - well, what else do you need to know? 'Shallow' has been splashed across the airwaves for weeks now, such is its popularity. The rest of the tunes range from great to skip, with Ally's 'pop' tracks coming in near the lower end of the spectrum. But in general, and this goes for the film as a whole, it's hard to ignore the sheer level of polish and 'feels' that radiate from A Star Is Born. It's far from perfect, but it's got its heart in the right place and something strong (and simple) to say.

The Verdict: 8/10

While the first half is markedly more compelling that the second, this is an impressive debut from Gaga as an actress and Cooper as a director. A soaring and soulful crowd-pleaser that soon pivots to reveal a darker edge.

A Star Is Born is in cinemas across Australia now.

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