Review: A Star is Born

Fuelled by some scintillating live performances, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper excel in the 4th retelling of this tale, but a sense of inevitably stops A Star is Born from being a full-blown masterpiece.

Maybe it’s just me and musical biopics. Now I know A Star Is Born isn’t actually a true story but it certainly has the earnest feel of one; reminded as I was of the likes of Walk The Line, What’s Love Got To Do With It and Ray throughout – all Oscar nominated incidentally – and perhaps that’s why this too is already being tipped to feature heavily comes awards season next year.

But whilst there’s no doubt this is well crafted, supremely acted and littered with memorable music throughout (yes, I’ve downloaded the soundtrack already), I felt surprisingly hollow at the film’s conclusion, as if someone had just spent two hours telling me a story I already heard a hundred times before.

It tells a pretty simple tale; Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a hugely successful but flawed alt country singer, addicted to booze and drugs. On the lookout for a drink after a stadium gig, he stumbles into a dag bar, where Ally (Lady Gaga), is the only woman allowed to sing, because the rest of the drag acts think she is that good.

Jackson watches in awe, goes backstage to meet her and after she lamps an unwelcome fan later that night, they share stories and songs and begin a romance that is central to the rest of the film. Jackson is convinced she has the talent to succeed and begins to incorporate her into his gigs but as Ally’s career surges under the stewardship of manager Rez Gavron, Jackson’s begins to decline, not because of his talent, but his demons.

The story is arc is a strangely simple one, so that even though their relationship is intensely and honestly played out, largely thanks to two magnificent central performances, it’s a tale that lacks surprises and thus, for me, intrigue.

Much of the positive commentary around the film has centred on Lady Gaga’s performance, and rightly so. Perhaps surprisingly, she convinces more as the girl next door looking for her shot at fame than as the over manufactured Grammy-winning pop star. Rather less of a shock is that her live performances are some of the film’s highpoints. The moment when Jackson calls her on stage to sing the beautiful Shallows, and they duet together for the first time, is probably the pinnacle of the film, and indeed their relationship.

As good as Gaga is, writer/producer/director Cooper is arguably even better. His eyes somehow convey sex appeal and extreme sadness in equal measures and his slow descent into full blown alcoholism is measured, moving and utterly convincing (save one misjudged excruciating Grammy scene).

But despite his and his co-star’s best efforts, there’s a lack of pace to proceedings. As his career unravels and hers excels, it all feels both too predictable and too one-paced. Yes, the ending is handled expertly but even that couldn’t help me feeling that as worthy as this film is, and as impressive as the leads are, try as they might, on this occasion, the stars didn’t quite manage to align.


Special thanks to the Curzon Cinema Sheffield for screening this film for Exposed.

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