Film review: A Star Is Born 2018
MANILA, Philippines — Whether it’s fair or not, A Star Is Born has always been remembered for its female lead star. This Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper version is the fourth time this story has come to screen. But while some will remember Janet Gaynor and a lot more can point to Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, how many will recall Fredric March, James Mason or Kris Kristofferson? Unfair really when you think about it, for while the female lead is the title role, the whole story hinges on the two person interplay between the ingénue star on the rise, and the fading fortunes of the established male star who “discovers” her and takes her under his wings.
This generation’s A Star Is Born may well prove to be the one to break that chain, as while Lady Gaga’s acting has been lauded as revelatory, Cooper’s direction and acting are just as essential to the “magic” that the film creates. That is no mean feat when you take into consideration that given this is the fourth version, the plot will offer no surprises. To keep us engaged throughout the film is contingent on how, without straying too far from the basic storyline; the acting, the flourishes and the texture, can provide a fresh updated feel and look. And kudos to Cooper for giving us all that.
Rather than mention the story then, let’s talk about what makes this film works. Lady Gaga strips off the colorful stage persona she is known for, and while this isn’t her first screen performance; this is her first title role, and she makes the most of it.
Vulnerable but tough in her own way, Gaga’s Ally is an accomplished acting feat with enough of an arc to make her portrayal sympathetic and real. It’s funny to note that when the record company starts managing her and turning her into a global pop star phenom, it’s like she’s channeling JLo or Mariah Carey. And in the final song at the tribute concert for Jack (Cooper), it’s pure Whitney Houston. Scene-stealing during the scenes of Ally at home is her father, Lorenzo, played by Andrew Dice Clay.
As for Cooper’s Jackson Maine, here is something most leading men would not do — giving us a portrayal that’s a road accident waiting to happen, with skid marks and all. High on booze, on pills, on injections, Jackson is a popular country rock star who’s out of control and fading fast due to tinnitus. There’s a relationship with a half-brother (Sam Elliott) that adds dimension and depth to the character, and the moments when Jack embarrasses himself and Ally are outright painful to watch. One scene in particular, when Ally is in a bathtub, and they trade insults is priceless — as is his making a fool of himself during Ally’s Grammy moment.
So while the buzz may center around Lady Gaga and the acting prowess she displays in the film, I’d like to say this could just as well be subtitled A Director Is Born.