A Star is Born is a legacy. This story of a hard-drinking musician falling in love with a young singer even as the relationship turns tumultuous, ergo the eventual downfall of one, is the perfect recipe for a blockbuster. The story has been made into a movie four times now and each version focusses on the chemistry of the leads with some soul stirring music. Each of them has been successful at the box office although the critical reception has been mixed.
The female leads in these movies have always hogged the limelight and faced the scrutiny of discerning movie lovers and music lovers alike. Janet Gaynor in 1937, Judy Garland in 1954, Barbra Streisand in 1976 and now Lady Gaga in the latest remake have all had musical careers complementing their big screen vocation. Barbra Streisand set the bar quite high with her Academy Award winning performance in the 1976 reimagination of the story. So, for Lady Gaga to even contemplate playing the iconic character needs to be complimented. The role comes with layers as the female lead starts from being a simpleton to rising to the pinnacle of her art form, only to be repeatedly pulled back by a turbulent husband who is himself coming to terms with his lost prime.
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga are a match made in heaven, especially in the first half of the movie. As they bond over music, the audience becomes the fly on the wall while romance blossoms between the two. This is the tender kind of romance, one which has a base in art and mutual admiration and the excitement of two people who see a Star and the stars together. Bradley doubles up as the director of this movie, his debut and makes a good impression. The story, slightly sluggish, gives ample time for the audience to connect with both characters. So when Jackson (Bradley’s character) starts to feel the distance between them increasing, you feel for both. As Jackson becomes a washed up version of his former self, his wife soars high and is catapulted to the top with the help of her manager Rez (Rafi Gavron).
But it will be wrong to focus on the leads alone. Sam Elliot has been a personal favourite of mine over the years with his resonant voice and memorable parts in The Big Lebowski and Road House. Here, he is Jackson’s elder brother, who has looked after his younger brother long enough and is quietly surrendering to the fate of his tippler brother. Even as things stay unsaid between them, a wonderful moment comes in the second half where finally Jackson musters words to say that it was not his father, but his elder brother he idolized all these years.
A star is born is as much about characters as it is about it’s music. The entire album has 19 songs and they feel like a mirror to the journey taken by our leads in the movie. ‘Shallow’ sung by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga will remain with you even after the movie ends and I will be surprised if it does not get a best Song nomination at the Oscars. Lady Gaga’s range is visible throughout the album, but what stands out is the ease with which Cooper matches the Diva.
A Star is Born is a worthy and dare I say, a better version of the previous remake. Cooper’s direction and acting prowess bundled with Gaga’s honest portrayal of a self-doubting artist ready to shine makes this movie a good watch. The second half and specially the ending, although predictable, is slightly stretched and does not leave as deep an impact as a death of a lead character should leave. May be, the attempt here is to continue with the rise of Ally (Lady Gaga) while Jackson moves aside and out of the shadows.