Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga play the leading roles in the fourth Hollywood version of "A Star Is Born," the classic inspirational yet bittersweet tale about success and fame in the show business.
A movie about the driven girl who wants to succeed, the celebrated but decadent artist who’s not without his inner struggles, and a restless romance in between.
There’s a reason that so many versions of the same story have been told. In all of them, there is a generational transition for the stars - from the mature artist being a symbol of an old and soon-to-be obsolete world, to the rising star who represents the new world. Each variation on this story is uniquely inseparable from the time period in which it was produced.
In the first “A Star Is Born” from 1937, the young heroine’s goal is to succeed in Hollywood, the film industry that was still in its golden age but had already been around long enough to have aging stars in decline. In the 1954 version, it becomes a musical and the heroine who falls in love with a former matinee idol is Judy Garland, who had her original star turn in The Wizard of Oz, the first iconic great musical of Hollywood. In the 1970s, “A Star Is Born” was produced with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson and the setting is pure classic rock’n'roll, the music scene that had already experienced the tragic Altamont free concert and seen Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix die at the age of 27.
In the latest version, Bradley Cooper directs the film and plays a 90's grunge rockstar (Kurt Cobain served as inspiration for the script, and the actor/director asked Eddie Vedder for advice), and Lady Gaga represents the transition to modern pop in today’s social media-focused YouTube and Instagram times.
Two stars are born
When you talk about acting in film, the terms "charisma" or "chemistry" between two stars are common, and although they are difficult concepts to define, from seeing the different versions of "A Star is Born" it becomes evident that a small gesture between the starring duo - like a smile from Judy Garland , a look of love shared between Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, or an innuendo-filled dialogue between Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, all have a different effect on us.
It’s in these details where the real essence and allure of “A Star Is Born” is found.
The story is always about more than its plot and its characters (which have the same motivations in every version). It is about the chemistry of the stars in the title roles.
The fact that Bradley Cooper debuted as a first-time director with this film and that Lady Gaga had her first leading role in a major production from a big studio, may explain some of the energy and authenticity that comes through in a "A Star Is Born," especially in its first act.
Bradley Cooper, who became famous for being a Hollywood heartthrob and has now devoted himself to more serious and complex roles, knows the demons that lurk behind fame and success. He’s also dealt with addiction - he even said that he was about to abandon his career as an actor because of drugs, alcohol and depression, and it was sobriety that "saved his life."
Lady Gaga, one of the most original, unclassifiable and daring artists who changed pop music in the new millennium, also knows the desire to succeed in music. And what it’s like to achieve it.
In addition to certain life experiences that Cooper and Lady Gaga share with the characters and their interpretations in this version of the movie, the first and best part of "A Star Is Born" is marked by that famous chemistry between both leads. A chemistry that is undeniably real.
Cooper revealed that when they still hadn’t cast the female protagonist of the film (Beyoncé was the original star for the project but left to pursue other things), he happened to see Lady Gaga singing "La Vie en Rose" live. He was fascinated with her charisma and in that instant he realized that she had to be his co-star. He convinced her first, and then they recorded a test video to convince Warner Bros. (Lady Gaga, meanwhile, convinced Bradley Cooper to learn to sing and not lip-sync).
That sense of friendship, mutual admiration and harmony between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga has come through in all the stories about both the production of the film and the movie itself. Cooper even recreated the scene of Lady Gaga singing "La Vie en Rose” in his variation on the classic story.
The culmination of that first act is their duet version of “Shallow” performed before an enraged crowd. Everything that leads to there it’s perhaps the most engaging part of the film, and their live performance in the movie is exhilarating.
There is a problem: all of it seems to happen too fast, as a mere introduction to what will come next.
And what comes next is the purest melodrama, which you might expect if you've seen the previous versions, but here it simply breaks with the idyllic feel (although with subtly and threatening signs) of that first part of the movie.
As in all its versions, the latest “A Star Is Born” is a cautionary tale - a story that tells us to be careful not to idealize fame and success.
The myth of the tortured artist who gives in to self-destruction and their addictions has become idealized in our society. And it may even have a secretly seductive element that's supported by the artist’s alleged commitment to artistic integrity that seems to be inseparable from their inner demons.
But seen up close we realize that that lifestyle is actually pretty ugly and tortuous. And it’s embarrassing to witness - as bad as peeing in your pants when you're drunk and in public - or watching the artist do it.
After singing "Shallow," the film shows its true dimension, embodying the lyrics of the song, "I am off the deep end, watch as I dive in, I’ll never meet the ground".
The romance between Jack and Ally is genuine, thus complicated. It’s involved in the ups and downs of their respective careers (his descending, hers ascending) and everything is charged with an unresolved tension.
There are also side issues to their relationship and their careers. Ally's father (Andrew Dice Clay) and his friends/co-workers function as a perfect comic relief from the darker aspects of the movie, and the relationship between Jack and his brother (Sam Elliott) could have occupied more of the film and no one would complain, and it's resolved in such a sad and beautiful way.
Above all, "A Star Is Born,” is about the drama, romance, and chemistry between the two main characters, each dealing with the glamour and peril of fame in their own ways.
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga put their charisma, personalities, and talent into this film to give it the uniqueness and appeal required by the canonical Hollywood tale they’ve revived for the fourth time, showcasing their own abilities and reaching new heights in today’s industry in the process.
Rating of A Star is Born: 6/10.