The 2018 adaptation of A Star Is Born, which premiered on October 5, 2018, with Lady Gaga in the lead role of Ally, was almost the film you were never going to see. In the preceding decade, the on-off project had spent a period in development hell, with a litany of star turns and directors attached. What finally got it over the finishing line was likely the raw chemistry between two charismatic leads, a surprisingly fresh take on a script filmed three times previously, and a universal tale as old as the hills.
Four treatments in, 2018’s A Star Is Born effortlessly steps out from the shadow of the Barbra Streisand/Kris Kristofferson 1976 mega-hit by stripping back some of the theatricality and replacing it with a compelling and heartfelt authenticity. In many ways, the 1954 George Cukor production, starring Judy Garland, appears to be the inspiration for this version, with Lady Gaga startling in her performance.
Gaga’s role as Ally is the heart and soul of this story. She’s discovered in a drag bar by Bradley Cooper’s troubled country legend, Jackson Maine, who sees something in her performance that even she has yet to identify. Seductively but sometimes crudely, he sets it free. As his star starts to fade, her brightening supernova is soon circled by a raft of ambitious industry executives who want to shape it out of all recognition. The choice that the couple must face, with two destinies increasingly out of orbit with each other, is predictable in part because it’s something we can all recognize: the push and pull of a partnership moving in different directions.
Lady Gaga strips back all of the window dressing you’ll associate with her pop persona and, if her natural charisma can sometimes distract during the live performances, it works in the context of this narrative. Scenes on those concert stages will make you gasp with their adrenaline rush. On the big screen, this is about as close as most of us will get to appearing on stage ourselves.
The hit soundtrack is packed with a mix of varied cuts ranging from the campy “La Vie En Rose” to the country love song “Maybe It’s Time,” Southern foot-shuffler “Alibi,” the urban “Why Did You Do That” and poignant power anthem “I’ll Never Love Again.” Bradley Cooper more than holds his own on this, with a gravelly but rich vocal tone that complements Gaga’s perfectly on the duets.
The deservedly Oscar-winning “Shallow,” meanwhile, is a mid-tempo ballad that serves as a pivotal plot hinge and has transcended the film to become an enormous hit in its own right. Each song, however, moves the story along, holding together well for such a range of material. On the A Star Is Born soundtrack album, snippets of the movie’s dialogue open and close the songs, adding greater ballast to the immersive, exciting experience.
Bradley Cooper’s outstanding performance as the troubled icon is perhaps bettered by an even more accomplished first turn as a director, easing this story away from its soap-opera heartland with sharp editing and some grand setups that frame this widescreen epic perfectly. It’s a curiously timeless piece – the occasional crossover into obviously contemporary moments such as a Saturday Night Live sequence jar, almost breaking the spell. Maybe that says something about the universal narrative of the movie, and why a plot that dates back to the 30s still works so well today. Across just over two hours, the thrust of Ally’s launch into stardom is as exhilarating as Jackson’s decline is raw and painful.
No doubt, in a few decades’ time, fresh new pretenders will revisit the tale. Until then, this extinguishes all that came before in a movie tour-de-force that establishes Lady Gaga as the greatest chameleon of her generation. With Bradley Cooper also at a career-high, they are the proud parents to a modern classic.