To say there was pressure for this latest iteration of “A Star is Born,” would be a gross understatement. Since the project was first announced, many have wondered what in the world Bradley Cooper’s version of this story (yes, he directed and co-wrote the screenplay) would look like. When Lady Gaga was brought on board, the intrigue only grew. What version of this story would they tell? How would it fare within the grand history of this tale? Only time would tell.
Well, time has spoken and the result is a truly touching take on this tragic tale. It’s not without its flaws, of course, but for the mostpart, this movie managed to weave a beautiful new narrative from this oft-visited tale. It paid homage to its predecessors (the “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” moment is everything) and forged its own path into the legacy that is “A Star is Born.”
A large part of that success is the music, which is not only great on its own, its contributions to the story are stunning, telling us precisely how this all will end from the very beginning, while never letting on that they’re anything more than catchy melodies.
And of course, doing that successfully takes some incredible performances, and as you’ve likely heard at this point in the awards season, this movie has them in spades. The magic of Gaga as Ally has been seen and heard far and wide. And Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine impressed me just as much…not just because of his singing chops (which are incredible), but the completeness of his character, which we can’t discuss without talking about the voice.
For the part, he dropped his voice down into a low, gravelly tone, which can best be described as Sam Elliott-esque, which is entirely appropriate given that he plays Jackson’s brother, Bobby. The role may be relatively small, but his moments on screen are profound, which is why it’s not surprising at all that he (along with Cooper and Gaga) received an Oscar nod for the performance. It’s a long overdue nomination and many expect he’ll be taking that statue home.
My one disappointment, which is by no means unique to this version of “A Star is Born,” is that for a story about a woman, it really isn’t about Ally, but I think it should be. Every moment we have with Ally is about her relationships with the men in her life. Every. Single. Moment. From her bathroom phone conversation with an ex all the way through to her closing number. Of course, with so few other women in the film, to begin with, it’s not surprising that Ally’s story is tied to the men in her life. She doesn’t seem to have any women at all in her inner, middle, or outer circle (except for the stage manager who gives her a backstage pass). The lack of ladies in her life could be an interesting concept to explore, but it never seems to be the point.
Now, I’m not saying every story about a woman doesn’t need to be some grand feminist tale, that’s not my point. I’m saying the fifth time we’re telling this story, it might be nice to see our heroin break free of that trope. Just this once. And with a movie that is otherwise a beautiful, tragic film it feels like a missed opportunity and an unfortunate step in the same direction.
At the end of the day, this modern adaptation of this familiar story is in many ways the same as those that came before it, but just as its predecessors did, it’s found ways to stand out. When you’re dealing with a story that has been told many times before and will undoubtedly be told many times again, there’s a lot hanging on how you’ll make it yours. Shortcomings and missed opportunities aside, I do think what they’ve created here is something special. It’s translated this narrative for a whole new generation with music that transcends the tale itself.