There’s a reason this is the fourth time A Star Is Born has been made into a major motion picture. Aside from that perennial fantasy of being whisked away from your ho-hum existence by a megastar, the narrative can be neatly updated into whichever scene the current era most idolises.
This time around it’s the tour-heavy modern music jag, with Bradley Cooper as the messed-up and mumbling rockstar Jackson Maine and Lady Gaga as spunky aspiring musician Ally, whom the former happens to see performing in a drag bar when he stumbles in one drunken night.
Gaga offers an impressive evolution of personality over the course of the film; in its beginnings when Ally is closer to Gaga’s own Stefani Joanne Germanotta self (with little make-up and the sleeve of Carole King’s Tapestry pinned to her bedroom wall), she’s adorably incredulous. When her career’s on the ascent and she’s harshly reprimanded for sending her dancers off-stage, her face falls, and it’s heartbreaking. As she begins to take control of her destiny, her features gain resolve but they don’t harden – she manages to convince us that her character’s love for Jackson is the golden thread and absolute constant of her life.
You’d have to be stone not to be moved when Ally first throws caution to the wind and walks on stage after Jackson’s spontaneous invitation – filmed by Cooper in very close-up, mobile shots which move in-step with Ally, with the heaving festival crowd looking just about ready to tsunami the stage – and Cooper and Gaga do have chemistry, which makes the story’s anguished moments genuinely stirring.
The film also presents as a kind of eulogy for the apparently dying art of ‘real musicianship’ in the epoch of stadium pop tours; it’s true that in 2018 a young artist may be playing the largest festivals in the world before they’ve laid more than two tracks down in a studio, let alone released an album. But Jackson’s decline and its accompanying professional lowlights (look out for a Marlon Williams cameo!) are deliberately played against the lure of Ally’s adopted genre, with its elaborate costumes and shallow lyrics.
It’s a little lumbering as an allegory, but don’t think about that angle too hard – it’s the only thing bringing down this otherwise very entertaining, cannily-shot, moving update to a timeless story.
In cinemas: October 18, 2018
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott
Directed by: Bradley Cooper