It’s hard to nail down A Star is Born. Is it a look into the corrupting power of fame? Yes. Is it a deep dive into what makes a loving relationship. Yes. Is it an unexpected discussion on morality in the modern age through multiple generations. Unequivocally yes. This is storytelling with many faces and a lesser film would ultimately pick one avenue of attack and hit you with it. Director Bradley Cooper, in his directorial debut, cleverly wraps his themes up within the souls of his characters however, not only making them layered in a way few films achieve but also hiding meaning and elegance within their struggles.
A Star is Born follows ageing rock star Jack (Cooper), an alcoholic barely holding onto his fame as his time in the limelight begins to fade in front of him. On a drunken bender he runs into Ally ( a sublime Lady Gaga), a struggling musician and hotel employee who has talent hidden within her. Jack instantly takes to Ally and his obsession with her is quickly reciprocated. However this entangles both of them in a world of highs and lows neither one of them could have expected.
It’s impossible to talk about the film without first talking about the performers bringing it to life because despite Cooper intertwining some inspired shots and clever editing into this tale, it really is about the people in it. Not only does every scene crackle with a kind of naturalistic energy but it still gives everyone a chance to shine. A surprise cameo by Dave Chappelle as a retired musician is a real highlight as he gives a flawless monologue about retirement and moving on without every making this dialogue heavy moment seem anything other than completely human.
Gaga and Cooper clearly have a respect here for both what they are trying to say and who their characters are because these two sink into their roles, disappearing behind their insecurities and fears. Cooper never feels the need to justify why Jack and Ally come together in the way that they do, he understands that this is arbitrary, he should be able to show it, not define it for us. The moments you find yourself wondering why Ally has forgiven Jack, or Jack has held his tongue to protect Ally’s feelings, Cooper breezes past, asking his attentive audience to make their own decisions. I mean that’s what loving someone is after all, making your own decisions about who they are and what you adore about them and rather cynically, what you can live with about them.
These are multi layered, carefully crafted people. When we meet Jack he is a down on his luck drunk with nothing good going for him. When he meets Ally this changes but he’s still a drunk, something she recognises but accepts because he is more than this one part of him. He is the sum of all his parts, a fact difficult to reconcile with the sometimes deplorable things he does while plastered. Cooper carefully straddles the fence while playing with outcome as he works in playful hints to the film’s conclusion, oftentimes leading you in a completely different direction only to pull the rug out from under you.
There is a listlessness here that proves a triumph and a detriment as at times it feels that in sculpting Ally and Jack for the screen, moments were sacrificed along the way and the audience plays catch up to a story that could have been fuller. On the other hand though this aimless storytelling only adds to Jack’s lack of meaning in his career and life overall. When the story pans around to Ally though this approach doesn’t work, she has a clear trajectory and Cooper doesn’t give it enough time to breath.
You could nitpick many little things, a popular pastime for even the seasoned critic but this is the kind of film you just want to drink in, let it soak into your bones. Filled with some killer music written by Gaga and Cooper, this is a collaboration on every level and it has a deep-rooted family feel to it. Not the Pixar kind of family everyone envisions when they hear the word in relation to movies but the kind where you see too much, know too much about the people around you. This closeness makes every lyric and word spoken feel honest and painfully raw.
In the end it might not be date night viewing, you aren’t going to be leaving with a beaming smile or a satisfied feeling of being contented but you might just understand how we perceive and forgive people on a daily basis, in fact it might make you look at the person next to you in a new light. It might not change you but it will show you that the hard times might just be the ones that make the good ones mean something.