It is a tale as old as time: Boy meets girl, boy helps girl get famous, boy’s alcoholism becomes a bane to the girl’s success and hence boy kills himself. On paper, Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut A Star is Born is a Hollywood cliché that has been retold exactly three times before with the first version of the film premiering back in 1937 starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. With 81 years and two other remakes between the two films, how does the narrative of this melodrama hold up with the woke audience of today?
The answer lies in several elements, starting with the power of Lady Gaga, who stars as Ally, a struggling artist who believes she has passed her prime until she meets Jackson Maine (played by Bradley Cooper), a seasoned musician who coaxes her into the spotlight by taking her on tour with him and performing her written songs. They fall in love and get married, but as Ally’s fame grows and her image changes, Jackson goes into an alcoholic spiral and eventually plummets to utter destruction, resulting in his suicide which is regarded as an act of self-sacrifice so that Ally can be free.
Gaga’s performance in this breakout role is nothing short of impressive. She carries the character of Ally throughout and rides the metamorphosis in an incredibly believable manner, and that is still saying nothing about what she brings to the film through her voice. The songs within the film that are also written by Gaga contain prolific lyrics but are given impact through Gaga’s belting, and she does a lot of it throughout the film. Considering Lady Gaga’s discography with songs like Poker Face and Bad Romance, it is rare to hear the full range and capability of her voice as showcased in this film. The manner in which she embodies Ally through song is a real audible treat to the audience that is further complemented by her acting in the film.
As stellar as Lady Gaga is however, Bradley Cooper’s performance in A Star is Born almost eclipses her. Despite keeping to the original narrative of the film, Cooper’s male character in this version of A Star is Born is anything but your typical washed up drunk celebrity. There are layers to Jackson Maine’s pain, from his complicated backstory to his evident need for his brother’s approval, all of which contribute to his drinking problem that is further amplified when Ally changes her image as she gains popularity.
Jackson Maine presents not as a man threatened or despaired by his partner’s success, but instead as a wounded person because she morphs into something other than what he regards is ‘herself’. He is a new, progressive and supportive type of male that recognizes a woman’s potential and wants to see her succeed without compromising her self or her ‘essence’ (as Cooper so aptly puts it in the film) whose undoing is not his wife’s success eclipsing him, but the idea that she is not true to herself and is willing to put up a front as a price of fame.
He is every career woman’s wet dream with a side of alcoholism, and Cooper carries the character with a broodiness and intensity that makes his performance dark and gripping. While there are obvious moments in which misogynist tradition applies (see Jackson Maine’s persistence at the beginning of the film), Cooper’s display of male pain and anguish shows the damaged side to his character and exposes his weaknesses. Cooper’s character is not melodramatic out of wounded pride, but from shame and disappointment at his behaviour, bringing about a nakedness that did not exist in the Mr Maines that came before him. The vulnerability to Jackson Maine that was brilliantly executed by Cooper is one of the progressive drivers of this version of A Star is Born, and it is definitely commendable.
From the visceral qualities of the characters and actors alike down to the very last powerful note, Cooper’s directorial debut is a strong one and definitely shows his prowess as both a new director and a seasoned actor. In an era where special effects and superheroes are revered, Cooper’s A Star is Born while nostalgic in its melodramatics is a great display of authenticity once paired with contemporary ideals and style, setting the precedence for any future remakes of the film at an entirely different level.
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