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TIFF 18: Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper Shine Bright in ‘A Star Is Born’ – Review

Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born is the third remake of the 1937 classic of the same name. The story is now as old as time, and has been reinvented and reinterpreted in various films over the last 80 years.

This time around, a seasoned musician on a decline meets a young talented woman, destined to be a star. With his guiding presence, the two embark on a relationship as her career flourishes, while his wanes – as one star shines, another dims (A Star Fades would have been a more accurate title). The central story in all versions are fairly embraced by Cooper, as well as fellow screenwriters Eric Roth and Will Fetters. However, where this one differs is the extra attention on Jackson’s professional and personal downward spiral. Lady Gaga shines bright with the material she is given, and her performance makes up for what is a relatively a shortchanged role.

As previously mentioned, this movie is very much about Jackson. With his physical and mental health declining quickly,  his passion for music is simultaneously being dragged down into the muck. One fateful night, he stumbles into a bar and meets Allie, his soon to be muse and love. Jackson is a lost soul and it isn’t until Allie steps onto the stage, bathed under the spotlight, does he hear an angel calling him back to his one true passion. Jackson is profoundly moved by Allie, it’s love at first sight. Allie’s voice ricochets off the walls and straight into Jackson’s heart.

(Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

Lady Gaga rises above all expectations and delivers an understated, yet powerful performance as the tough yet vulnerable Allie. Gaga’s performance is outstanding and is deserving of all the praise she’s been receiving. That being said, I do wish that Allie was given as much depth and attention as Jackson. Allie as a character is very familiar – she is a talented young woman with a gift many would kill for and when she is given an opportunity of a lifetime, she’s swiftly dragged in the wrong direction. Allie’s initial concerns about the music industry were in regards to her look and Allie (rightfully) did not pursue any opportunity that would have her alter her appearance. However, she suddenly becomes rather passive when she acquires a new sleazy manager that is eager to change her look, leaving Allie to settle for a Lady Gaga-esque makeover.

The pop star version of Allie is a far cry from the Allie we first meet. The same songstress who composed “Shallow” and performed it for Jackson while icing her hand in a grocery store parking lot (after punching a dude that was disrespecting Jackson at a bar). The story seems to be making direct parallels to how Lady Gaga herself came to be famous. Though while the journey is very personal, we rarely spend much time with Allie. Her thoughts and feelings about these changes are barely addressed and the passivity counteracts everything we knew of her leading up to that fateful performance at Jackson’s concert.

Gina Prince-Blythewood’s Beyond the Lights has a similar story and character arc for its central pop star character. That story focused on Noni’s (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) shallow ascension to fame, only to have her stumble under the pressure. Noni has to re-evaluate and become the artist she wants to be. Allie’s arc could have followed a similar trajectory in tandem with Jackson dealing with his personal demons. Ideally, we could have had a Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby situation with two films chronicling the story from each perspective. However, that isn’t what happened and ultimately, what we get is a Jackson focused A Star Is Born.

(Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

Despite that flaw,  Cooper’s interpretation is raw and moving as it focuses on our central character’s desperate attempts to hold onto life – first as he knew it and then onto what it has become. Eventually, Jackson sees Allie as a lifeline or a crutch, but, as she’s a star on the rise, she keeps slipping farther and farther away from him. Soon, even Allie seems like a stranger to him, specifically due to her acceptance of the changes the industry has had on her. Jackson grows disillusioned by this version of Allie, feeling that she had more depth.  Jackson is struggling and Cooper uses this story to highlight the many troubling signs that people should watch out for. Jackson is a sobering example of what happens when people in need push away all that may help them. It is even more troubling as Jackson represents the many great stars who for one reason or another stumble and sadly don’t get back up.

The music and the sound design should certainly be given the respect it deserves come  award season. Cooper puts in the work to create a great auditory experience. Every beat of the music, every note that Gaga and Cooper sing, will hit you hard. You may be sitting in a movie theatre, but you’ve been made to feel like you are at a real concert. The best thing you can do is find a theatre that sports one heck of sound system (trust me, you will be doing yourself a favour). The pre-pop star Allie has some great musical numbers and even the trashy pop version can compete with the current slate of Lady Gaga imitators. If “Shallow” isn’t on the top of your Spotify playlists than you might be someone without a soul, and we should all expect some nominations and maybe even a live performance from Gaga and Cooper at the Oscars. *fingers crossed*

(Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

The previous iterations of A Star Is Born were all critically acclaimed and Cooper’s version shall not be the exception. It is beautifully shot and acted. The music and sound design will shake you to your core and stay with you long after you have left the theatre. But, what will certainly haunt you is the bittersweet story of Jackson and Allie. For this reason, A Star is Born is a must-see. Cooper perfectly demonstrates the layers upon layers of astonishing truths to the entertainment industry. It is not enough to simply be great at what you do, it isn’t enough to simply love the craft. Sacrifices have to be made. 

Cooper’s take on the classic story is nothing short of breathtaking. The first-time director crafts an experience that very few seasoned filmmakers could. A Star Is Born (at every stage), is an astonishing achievement and one that proves why some remakes are worth it. A remake can subvert expectations and open up audiences into seeing the story from a new angle. It’s a tough task, but one Cooper succeeds at. A Star Is Born is an astonishing work of art from a first time director and a prime example of how to do a remake right.

A Star Is Born is in theatres everywhere Friday, October 5!

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