A Star is Born (2018)
A universal trope that reappears in various cultural forms is drawn from the Ancient Greek mythology of a sculptor called Pygmalion. After falling in love with one of his statues he was granted a wish that she come to life and love him in return. In its modern form, the story is usually based on a successful male who nurtures the potential of a rising female and is rewarded with love. The unbroken lineage of this narrative can be seen in its latest and most spectacular version of A Star is Born (2018), updated with themes of substance abuse, mental illness, and the fickle perils of celebrity.
Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a famous country music singer who regularly binges on drugs and booze. The film’s opening scenes define the man: he holds a packed concert hall in the palm of his hands, then goes onto a night bender in a chauffeured limo. He stops to drink at an obscure drag bar where he is swept away by waitress-singer Ally Campana (Lady Gaga) who mesmerises with her rendition of Edith Piaf’s La Vie En Rose. The rest is well known: they fall in love, he literally sweeps her onto the big stage with the simple words “Just trust me”, and she is a knockout. It’s a whirlwind romance that sees them bond emotionally and professionally. He fights his addiction and promises to stay clean, but as her celebrity star rises, his tragically falls.
Describing the storyline is easy but the powerhouse acting and musical performances of Cooper and Gaga are superlative. Both fill their roles with authenticity because that’s who they are. Unlike her real-life persona, here Gaga is stripped bare and is the epitome of vulnerability. Words and melody take second place to the expressiveness in her vocal tones, and her simply divine finalé of “I’ll Never Love Again” is unforgettable. Cooper channels every all-American country singer that ever existed: macho, hard-living, and impossible to listen to without tapping your feet. The chemistry between them is palpable; whether it’s in the highs of romance or the lows of shattered lives, the synergy is electric. The cinematography never wavers in its intensity. It turns stage backlights into an organic canvas, and shapes big and small spaces into elements of narrative.
Much more could be said, but it’s the performances and music that leave their mark. The film has things to say about the misery of addiction and it teases out high-art music against pop pulp. Depending on how you look at it, there is also gender power in play. But these are not what you will remember most. It is a standout musical and a modern classic of entertainment.
Director: Bradley Cooper
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott