At last week’s Santa Barbara Film Festival Paul Schrader praised Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born calling her “a revelation” This past weekend Schrader continued his praise for Bradley Cooper calling him “the best director of 2018.”
As the film seems a lock to continue its streak of winning awards Best Original Song for Shallow, the film reaches every corner of the Oscar race with eight nominations, including Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor.
Whether you’re seeing this classic Hollywood tale for the first time ever or you’ve seen the previous versions, there’s one thing that remains clear, this has been the film that solidified Lady Gaga’s status as a formidable actress.
Gaga has spent much of Awards season launching her Vegas show, entering a new era of her career with Enigma, a dazzling spectacle. But on January 22, Lady Gaga woke up to find an Oscar nomination to her credit.
Warner Bros. teased us last August with the first trailer for A Star Is Born and gave us an exciting glimpse of Ally singing Shallow and that, “AHH AH-HA-AAH-AH AAA” moment that would feed the anticipation of her Little Monsters worldwide. We wanted more.
In this version of A Star Is Born, Ally is a waitress who loves her coworkers but can’t stand her abusive boss. Her real passion is singing, and by night she performs at a drag club. In that early sequence, Cinematographer Matthew Libatique captures that final frame of Ally singing La Vie En Rose, lighting her in red, and Cooper has her deliver a down the barrel shot.
Cooper’s Jackson Maine is as smitten as we are and Ally enters his world. We in the audience are just as transfixed with Ally as Jackson is. He takes her under his wing and jumpstarts her meteoric career.
Shallow in its entirety onscreen is indeed every bit as extraordinary as what the trailer promised, except now we know the story, and feel the full force of its depth. Except, we’re no longer watching Lady Gaga “perform” we are watching her strip away that music icon image to become Ally. Her performance is indeed an astounding transformation as we witness her vulnerability. We feel her nerves and anxiety as she sings those lyrics, as Cooper smartly hones in on every expression through his framing and staging, capturing the vulnerability that she oozes in that moment building to that “Ahhhhh-ahhhhh” moment. It’s mesmerizing.
With music at its center, the melodies and lyrics drive home these feelings, this narrative, this love, this stardom. The concert sequences are a thrill to watch. Libatique’s cinematography always puts us right beside Ally and Jackson onstage. We are there, not watching from the audience, but rather in an embrace of intimate subjectivity from Ally and Jackson’s point of view. The focus gradually shifts Ally, increasingly on her own, so we experience her journey as she moves from Jackson’s world into her own world of stardom.
As we watch the couple fall in love, that enduring message of unconditional love is made manifest. We feel the ache of craving a happy ending that we know we can’t have. As much as we may wish the star-crossed lovers to live happily ever after, the darker side of this fable will never allow it. You can’t remake a Hollywood film and alter the course of this devastating fate.
The most tragic part of Cooper’s stark new adaptation is the way his film addresses the damage wreaked by alcoholism with heartbreaking realism. Along with co-writers Eric Roth and Will Fetters, Cooper’s screenplay pulls no punches. From the time Ally finally loses her cool with Jackson over his drinking and his pill-popping to Jackson’s plaintive apology in rehab, the performances strike at the heart. There’s a rawness and pain to the addiction storyline unlike anything ever seen in previous versions.
Spoiler alert! There is no happy ending! But when the story ends the way that it must, the harrowing journey gives us closure with a bittersweet elegy from a survivor. Ally’s unconditional love for Jackson just wasn’t enough to save him from his torment. She performs I’ll Never Love Again, in tribute. Though her song about the joy of love and the pain of loss leaves us feeling as shattered as she is, we can at least be relieved that Ally survived the shipwreck.
Without a doubt, Bradley Cooper’s personal connection to the addiction aspect of the storyline makes that moment resonate with even more authenticity. Cooper is indeed as much of a revelation as his co-star. His hours spent watching David O’ Russell and Clint Eastwood in the editing room proved to be priceless – lest we forget, this is his directorial debut, yet he delivers like a pro.
In the words of Streisand, “I think Lady Gaga is great casting. I think Bradley Cooper is a wonderful director and he made a really good film.” She added, “It’s excellent. His guitar playing is extraordinary actually.”
Lady Gaga has flirted with movie roles in the past – but until now they’ve been of the blink and you’ll miss them variety. Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, an uncredited alien in Men In Black II, Machete Kills, and going way back, she also appeared in an episode of The Sopranos. She has also starred in American Horror Story, but at last A Star Is Born allows the full range of her talents to shine in a career has pursued since studying acting at NYU Tisch and the Lee Strasberg Method of Acting. She followed that path for ten years but claims she was “terrible at auditions and I decided to become a singer instead.” Sometimes Fate isn’t so cruel to us after all.
A Star Is Born is a film that reminds me of everything I love about going to the movies. Please take a moment and remember its undeniable emotional impact when you cast your votes.