The Reel Review: "A Star Is Born" Is A Shimmering Take On A Classic

A Star Is Born is the ultimate generational classic. From Janet Gaynor and Fredric March in 1937, to Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954, to Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in 1976, it’s a tale that has reinvented itself for each new generation that has come to adore it. 2018’s re-telling, which recasts the grizzled has-been as Bradley Cooper and the fresh-off-the-bus starlet as Lady Gaga, might be the latest in a long line, but it brings the story bang up to date, ensuring audiences will be entranced by this ageless love story for decades to come.  

In every incarnation, A Star Is Born follows two artists at their most tumultuous and interesting, one on their way up, and one on the way back down. Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine is more of a sympathetic figure than an irredeemable one, with slowly debilitating tinnitus and deafness making up the bulk of his tragic backstory. A country-rocker teetering on the edge of irrelevancy, he is drowning out his own career doubts with beers and temper tantrums when he hears an angelic rendition of “LA Vie En Rose,” delivered by a tantalizingly aloof singer-songwriter named Ally (played with pitch-perfect groundedness and humor by Lady Gaga). Smitten at once, he takes the budding superstar under his wing, but it soon becomes clear that their stars cannot ascend at the same time.

While he tours stadiums and arenas with less and less passion to drive him to do so, she is approached by a sleazy talent manager who, for all his slimy tendencies, helps her professional life go from strength to strength. While Jackson’s performance at the Grammy’s is deprioritized and shuffled around, she sits in the audience poised to win three separate awards. The agony of both as they try to navigate these new obstacles is hardly new: La La Land did it just a few years ago to massive acclaim.But where the aforementioned movie uses romanticism to resolve these hardships, A Star Is Born is all jagged edges, throwing the confusion and quiet resentment into sharp relief.

That’s not to say the movie is a dour one. Although director and co-star Bradley Cooper’s performance pays homage to archetype of the tortured artist in a big way, his slumping melancholic ways are complimented by Gaga’s wide-eyed effervescence. Though she thankfully lacks the unquestioning naivety of the old Hollywood dames who have played the part before her, she is not completely divorced from their legacy. There is more than a little Funny Girl in her wry wit and sharp tongue, an influence she has coped to on more than one occasion. There is also a healthy helping of melodrama in both the script and the way in which it is performed, which acts as a handy clue for the audience not to take this sweeping but ill-fated romance too seriously.

 The movie is also helped by the lushness of the music. Jackson’s backing band, who go by Lukas Nelson & The Promise Of The Real in real life, are on loan from Neil Young, and that expertise and legacy shines through every time they are on screen. That’s to say nothing of Lady Gaga’s soaring vocals, which may even surprise old fans given their complete disparity from much of Gaga’s released work. However, those who have seen her frequent collaborations with Tony Bennett will be in more familiar territory, as it is her jazz training and Broadway backing that allows her to hit such incredible heights, while still delivering a nuanced and emotional performance every time.  

Pop star cameos in film and television are fraught with danger; anyone who’s suspension of disbelief was ruined by Ed Sheeran’s presence in Game of Thrones can attest to that. But Gaga is perfectly at ease – and her performance easily lives up to every one of its predecessors. Though Gaga has no doubt experienced enough private-jet rides and complimentary bottles of champagne to drive her to the point of fatigue, we watch Ally experience each as a magnificent and astonishing first, and never once do we get the impression that she’s been treated to anything like it before. Similarly, as Ally gains confidence and the lines between her management-constructed persona and off-stage personality begin to blur, we never see Gaga playing Gaga. The pop-star she embodies, though equally mesmerizing and polished, is an entirely different entity.

It’s yet to be seen whether A Star Is Born will get the recognition it deserves at the Oscars, but the future seems bright. Between the ear worm that is the token awards-baity track “Shallow,” the excellent performances, and the surprisingly restrained and mature directing from Cooper, it’s certain that, awards or not, the continued legacy of A Star Is Born has been ensured. I just can’t wait to see who will pick up the showbiz torch next.