By Derek Delson
It’s a tale as old as time. A Star Is Born is a story embedded in the history of cinema with four different versions made in the last 80 years. The tale is simple: A weathered alcoholic celebrity discovers a new talent, falls in love with her, and helps her rise to stardom as his own success declines. From remake to remake, some changes have occurred, of course, but with each, the core story is maintained. The original 1937 version was a tale of old-time Hollywood; the 1954 remake, a golden age musical; the 1976 film, a rock musical. Each uses the original story and molds it for the time period. You’d figure that three adaptations should be enough, so why does this story keep getting remade? A Star Is Born is not only a touching love story but also a cautionary tale with big themes that are relevant to any time period. There is a lot of opportunity in taking an 80-year-old story and providing a new take on it, but there’s also room for failure. First-time director Bradley Cooper shows his merit as a director, writer, singer, and actor with the most recent remake of A Star Is Born, crafting a beautiful and appropriate story for the modern age.
In this modern version, Jackson “Jack” Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a talented musician trapped by his own destructive demons: drugs and alcohol. After a show, Jack stumbles into a bar and sees the stunning Ally (Lady Gaga) perform a song and immediately falls in love with her, seeing her star quality. He discovers that she has given up on becoming a singer/songwriter. Ally has accepted the mundane life of a waitress and singer once a week at a club. Jack helps Ally rise to fame as his own fame declines and his demons overtake him.
A Star Is Born shares the same story as its three predecessors, but Cooper adds his own contemporary spin on it, adapting it for modern times. The ‘54 version, starring Judy Garland and James Mason, had big musical numbers popular in the abundance of 1950s musicals. The 2018 film shows the modern music world with neon stage lights, the Grammys, and Saturday Night Live. A Star Is Born shows the parts of modern music culture we know so dearly, and helps us connect by seeing a world we are familiar with. Cooper has observed directors for 20 years as an actor, adding to his understanding and care for the job. Cooper has a definite style that feels very personal, always allowing the performances to impact the shots and scenes.
The performances in the 2018 A Star Is Born are absolutely outstanding; not one performance is lacking. Every character is three-dimensional, a testament to the actors’ hard work and to the well-written screenplay. Cooper gives perhaps his best performance yet, learning to sing and play guitar for the role. He embodies the suave, troubled musician perfectly and makes the audience care for him despite his catastrophic flaws. Lady Gaga proves that she’s not only a talented singer but also a tremendous actress as well. Gaga’s Ally is the heart of the movie, and seeing her journey is beautiful.
As expected with a musical, the soundtrack for A Star Is Born is superb. The music enhances the film in every way possible, adding emotion and amazing concert moments. At one point in the film, Jack brings Ally backstage at one of his concerts and asks her to sing a duet of the song “Shallow,” which she wrote, with him on stage. She’s reluctant but eventually gives in, and they share the touching moment that generates catharsis from the audience as they witness the love, connection, happiness and talent onscreen.
A Star Is Born focuses on themes that are relevant now more than ever. The themes of substance abuse and alcoholism have been present in each adaptation, but A Star Is Born (2018) has a lot to say about mental illness, a subject often shied away from. It also has artistic themes such as having a voice and staying true to yourself. Perhaps the film’s only shortcoming is that it drags a bit in the middle. Interestingly, this is true of the previous versions as well. I found my mind wandering throughout a couple of scenes during the middle of the film. However, the end justifies the slow pacing during the movie’s center portion.
A Star Is Born is personal, honest, and full of heart. It is a cautionary tale of fame, a character study, and a wonderful love story entwined together. A Star Is Born will likely take the Oscars by storm this February with powerful songs, acting and directing. It is a worthy remake that everyone should see.