Bradley Cooper has caught heat for his retelling of “A Star Is Born”—a movie so nice, they remade it thrice. The most recent version stars Cooper alongside Lady Gaga and serves as his directorial debut. Among problems like moments of cheesy dialogue and overwrought plot, many have questioned Cooper’s choice to focus much of the film on the story of the male lead to a much greater degree than has been done in previous versions of this story. It has been speculated that this is a selfish move; helping to write the film as well as star in it, he hoped to boost his role even more. There is surely evidence behind this claim, but the film has a strong counter to it—the performance of the one and only Lady Gaga.
If you haven’t seen the previous versions of the film and don’t want plot spoilers, you may want to consider skipping this review. The general storyline of the saga goes like this: a male performer meets a young woman by chance, plucks her from obscurity and launches her career as a star. As she rises as a star, he lowers, and soon she begins to eclipse him. Each version of the movie holds a few of the same plot points, such as the leading man’s struggles with addiction and his eventual demise. Each one remolds itself to a new generation’s perspectives on the themes of fame, beauty, artistry and power. Throughout the iterations of this tale, the story has shifted between a popular actor finding new acting talent, another actor turning a jazz singer onto musicals and a rock star and a pop singer. This year’s version returns to rock and pop music.
Jackson Maine, played by Bradley Cooper, is an alcoholic artist dedicated to telling the truth, who was raised by his much older brother after his father died when he was 13. His brother (Sam Elliott) still takes care of him on tours. By chance he meets Ally (portrayed by Gaga) at a drag bar while searching for booze after a gig, and he is captivated by her talent. The two fall in love, and she begins to tour and perform with him, until one day she is offered her own career. She jumps at the chance and works hard, but Jack doubts the “truth” of her music as she moves into pop music. As he feels that his alcoholism and her dedication to his recovery could be holding her back from achieving her dreams, he kills himself, in what he believes to be an act of sacrifice.
Lady Gaga is the perfect person to tell this story for a variety of reasons. First, there are many meta nods to her real-life persona and experiences. She is initially discovered in a drag bar and tells Jack that it’s “nice to be one of the gay girls,” a nod to her gay fanbase. Her character talks about how often she was rebuffed from the music industry because she is not classically beautiful, and specifically because of her nose, something Gaga has experienced herself. There are the well-known Gaga projects such as “Fame,” “The Fame Monster,” “Paparazzi” and “Artpop” that show how Gaga has been studying the intersection of art and fame for her entire career. As an artist known for things like “the meat dress,” she has a particular relationship with truth and artifice, particularly in the memories of the audience.
Yet if you put all the meta moments aside, what works best is that Lady Gaga is just so truly good in this film. She is vulnerable, relatable, powerful and emotive; she made my girlfriend and I cry for the entire third act of the movie. She told Stephen Colbert that Ally’s story is not at all her story; by her 30s Ally has given up on her dreams, her big break and her career, while Gaga was working hard and pursuing it at 19. Gaga’s performance at once makes you forget that you know who she is, but it also makes you not want to. You want to see the mirrors and reflections of the actress herself, because of all the power and connection she brings to the role.