'A Star is Born' Review: A tragically beautiful and exhilarating remake of the classic musical

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Tanmay Shukla

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

A Star is Born, Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper

The film opens with a cheering crowd. We follow a man from behind who sets the stage on fire upon his entry. The tight field-of-view exaggerates every slight camera motion to track the movements of Jackson Maine, who goes into a trance like state while singing with an acoustic guitar. This creative decision lends a certain intimacy to the film from the very beginning. We hear his deep, raspy voice, but we are not among the crowd, we see the crowd like he does. The energy flowing through his body and the spirited passion in his eyes is literally breathtaking to witness so close.

After the show, Jackson goes to a bar to fix himself a drink. Noodles (played by Dave Chappelle) is happy and excited to meet the famous singer and also because Ally, his friend, is about to perform a song. Jackson can't take his eyes off her. He follows Ally to the backstage. He meets his fans. There is a childlike curiosity in his eyes which is why he is so grounded, it feels. When he is requested by a woman to play a song, he asks, “What should I play?” She replies: “I don't care what you play, just look at my eyes while you're playing it.”

Jackson and Ally hit it off straightaway. Both are mesmerized by each other's singing talents. “They like the way I sound, but they don't like the way I look," says Ally who doesn't believe in herself, yet. Jackson traces with his fingers the outline of her nose bathed in red neon that she think is "too big." It's a short slow motion extreme close-up and feels outrageously romantic.

Sometime later, they are outside a grocery store—laughing, singing and talking, honestly. This scene sets up everything that is to come. Ally is a gifted singer-songwriter. They connect with each other like they are soulmates.

When Jackson and Ally sing "Shallow" together for the first time, they feel like a pair made in heaven. After a couple of successful shows Ally is approached by Rez (Rafi Gavron) who is a music producer. She accepts the offer and he also becomes her manager.

A Star is Born, Lady Gaga, A Star is Born

Ally learns dance steps to perform along with her singing. She is famous and gets invited to perform at SNL.  Rez tells her, “Don't forget to use the dance steps. Change your hair color to Platinum.” The country singer is slow turning into a pop icon.

Jackson clearly sees the path Ally is following. He has more experience and he tries to communicate what he has learned from his journey. They are standing together on the terrace. Behind them is Alley's gigantic poster on a billboard. She looks stunning, almost too perfect. Jackson says that she needs to be "real and honest" and it shouldn't matter what everyone else thinks. He adds, “4 days become 4 years, you start to like where you are.” And concludes, “If you don't dig deep in your f***ing soul, you won't have legs. Be soulful, passionate and tell them what you really want to say.” The conflict between following your inner voice as an artist and following the voice of the media and fans becomes obvious.

A Star is Born, Bradley Cooper, Guitar

We know Ally and Jackson because we are close to them. We see them fail, learn, excel and fail again. As one succeeds, the other struggles.  When we are so close, the inner turmoil becomes apparent as it subjugates the glory and glitter of the wider whole. This microscope view yields us finer details—when it's good it's great, when it's bad, it gets ugly too.

Bradley Cooper is sensational as country singer Jackson Maine. The shoot of the film finished in 42 days but it took Bradley three years of preparation to play Jackson Maine, including one and a half years of vocal training. Lady Gaga told Cooper that it depended on him the "honesty" he can get out of her performance as an actress, and she will help him to sing live together. The actor Lady Gaga and the singer Bradley Cooper have elevated A Star is Born from a good movie to an exhilarating one. Perhaps a great one!

A Star is Born, Lady Gaga, Bike Scene, getting cozy

Jackson Maine is a complex character. He is a talented singer and guitarist, but he also suffers from bouts of alcoholism and drug addiction. He is weak and irresponsible too. He has an elder brother in Bobby, played without any fuss by Sam Elliott. Their professional relation is strong but their personal relation is strained by the past. Bradley Cooper plays Jackson with the same sincerity and honesty that reflects in the amazing onstage performances as a musician and the dysfunctional private life of the character. He accomplishes this not by letting go of himself which would have led to over dramatization, but by giving a low-key, understated performance thus allowing Ally to occupy the centre stage in the second half of the film. His performance organically conflates with the ebbs and flows of the film at large.

Ally transitions from an ordinary (with potential for extraordinary) working woman to a successful singer-songwriter. Lady Gaga stamps her authority not only by her reigning vocals but through the actress present within. She surprises no one when she is singing. She does when she is not. When she is a nobody and even when she is anything but a nobody. The battle is not with the talented singer and perfect performer; it is personal, with the insecure and flawed woman that she is. To sum it up, she owns the movie and rightly so. Lady Gaga explores her range as an actress and more often than not, she succeeds, emphatically. Ally sought validation and approval after she became a celebrity, like when Noodles says that she "looks like a star" changes her mood.

A Star is Born, Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Singing

In A Star is Born, more than the plot, it is the rhythm that actually engages and captivates. Cinematography, storytelling, soundtrack all contribute to this but it is the editing of Jay Cassidy (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) who deserves most credit. The frequent juxtaposition of contrasting audio-visuals directs our attention and makes apparent the observations that director is attempting to put forth. This is done while keeping up with the plot and not at the cost of pace.

The screenplay and dialogues are worthy of appreciation too. Eric Roth (won the academy award for the screenplay of Forrest Gump) co-wrote the screenplay with Bradley Cooper. There is a confrontational scene which takes place in the bathroom. Ally is in the tub, relaxing. Jackson is drunk. He says, "I have failed you. You are embarrassing. You are ugly. You are too worried about everyone else." In another, Ally asks her father, "How many times did you sit there while I wrote a song?" Jackson reveals to his elder brother, "Fan came out of the ceiling when I attempted suicide. Dad didn't notice because he was too drunk. I was shy of 13."

A Star is Born, Romantic Moment, getting cozy, Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga

Matthew Libatique (The Fountain, Black Swan), the cinematographer, uses the tight perspective of close ups cleverly to serve the exigencies of the screenplay while still allowing enough room for aesthetically pleasing compositions. Wide shots are sparingly used in comparison but they are immaculately framed. The overall look imbues A Star is Born with a sense of inseparability of conflicting ideas like honesty and ambition, rise to fame which leads to friction but in some transient moments of harmony the coalition that emerges is overwhelming.

A Star is Born is a film less about the admirable and inspiring journey of two singers and more about the developments in their own personal lives that they choose to share with each other, unaware, that one loved more, and one needed more. It is less about the melodies they are gifted with, but the malady that accompanies their gifts. The silence that permeates the spaces between their tunes, separating them, resonates louder, strikes harder than the music that brought two empty souls together. There is unarguably a case for the pursuit of romance drawing its fascination from idealistic projections, but the path out of immediate sight is not without the hurdles and burdens of real life. Jackson and Ally take enough away to somewhat redeem themselves in my eyes but the director leaves the answer for subjective discretion to decide, in hindsight, the worth of their pursuit. The reflection, however, is indeed worth it.

A Star is Born, Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Singing

After the film finished, I felt the same way Jackson felt for Ally. I don't have anything more to say. I just wanted to have another look.

Rating: 8/10

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A Star is Born - Original Trailer (YouTube)

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