Co-written, directed by and starring Bradley Cooper the film adapts the story for a modern audience, placing itself in the world of rock n roll. Cooper plays a world renowned rock star who stumbles across a cabaret singer in a drunken state of desperation. In need of booze he wanders into a drag-bar and is immediately mesmerised by a young performer (Lady GaGa), whose star quality is undeniable. He sweeps her off her feet and before long they're in love and performing together. As her fame rises so too does his alcoholism and drug abuse, and as jealousy and addition threaten their relationship their love is tested to its absolute breaking point. To reveal more would be to deny you the pleasure of enjoying the film with awe, and in my opinion you need to experience its impact in a cinema with an audience.
From the moment we are introduced to Cooper's character, Jackson Maine, rocking out on stage in front of thousands of fans, we are transported to another world. Energy pulsates off the screen as the camera dances around him, and the roar of his audience combined with his music is instantly infectious. Needless to say Cooper's direction is impeccable and he sets the film's tone within seconds. How on Earth can a directorial debut be this ambitious and this good?
Cooper's onscreen presence is electric and I can honestly say that I have not experienced a character as charismatic and captivating as his in a long time. Clearly using Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) as a point of reference, Cooper adopts a rugged, dishevelled and handsome rock persona as he delivers his lines with a deep, gruff southern accent. Lady GaGa shares the screen as Ally, giving an equally commanding delivery, making their partnership one to remember. As their relationship blossoms and evolves, their characters navigate a multitude of highs and lows. Both Cooper and GaGa reach deep to conjure a level of depth and earnestness that's totally unexpected from either of them. He gives the performance of his career and she silences her critics with an award worthy turn.
Their supporting cast includes Andrew Dice Clay, who is wonderful as the doting father of Ally. Leaving his crass, confrontational schtick behind, he gives am unexpectedly heartfelt performance that provides a safe landing pad for Ally's character to rely on. Sam Elliot is wonderful as the aging tour manager whose devotion to Jackson is deeply seeded. He shares some incredible and touching moments on screen that should also earn him an award nom or two. Dave Chappelle, Anthony Ramos and Rafi Gavron add to the stellar line-up and grant the film further depth.
And if Cooper and GaGa are the equal headliners of A STAR IS BORN, then the soundtrack is without question the second lead. Produced by Lukas Nelson (son of Willie) with an assortment of writers including Nelson, Mark Ronson, Cooper and GaGa, it is an outstanding collection of songs and compositions. With dynamic cinematography by Matthew Libatique (Darren Aronofsky's long serving DOP) the music and images combine to make a beautiful marriage, leaping off the screen to create a full sensory experience. Watch this soundtrack win awards too, guaranteed!
I previously mentioned that I couldn't declare it to be a perfect film, and this comes down to the overall pacing of the narrative. The first and final acts are superb, moving as a breakneck pace without feeling rushed or gratuitous, however the middle act fumbles and loses momentum. As particular dramatic developments unfold, the charisma and gloss of the film wane significantly. It is an intentionally disarming directorial choice to facilitate the ongoing drama, and yet it makes for a brief disconnection from the audience. Thankfully the story gathers speed and rejuvenates itself for an beautiful and engrossing finale.
Just short of being a masterpiece, A STAR IS BORN is one of the highlights of the year for me. I foresee repeat viewings and a high rotation of the soundtrack. Cooper's arrival as a director is exciting news in deed, and I cannot wait to see how he flexes his creative muscle next.