It’s always interesting to see what happens when films get remade over and over again. A Star is Born was first made in 1937, then again in 1954, 1976 and more recently as a Bollywood musical. It’s a rags to riches tale for the female protagonist, and a tragedy for the male protagonist who discovers her in every version. All are either set in the film world or the music world. The latest version grabs from all previous US versions but primarily from the 1976 film with Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.
Warner Bros., which owns the rights to the story (although it’s a universal story that has been unofficially remade a million times…) has been developing a remake since 2011. Clint Eastwood was set to direct as one point, with Beyoncé to star alongside numerous huge movie names: Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Smith and Christian Bale were all in the frame at some point. Bradley Cooper, who has worked with Eastwood a couple of times, eventually stepped on board as director (in his directorial debut) and star: he had been approached for the Eastwood version at one point as well. He instantly thought of Lady Gaga as the female lead, and the film very quickly came together.
The story is very much an updated version for the 21st century. Bradley Cooper plays Jackson “Jack” Maine, who is a big sort of country-laced indie rock star but also a hardcore alcoholic. One night when completely wasted, he asks his driver to stop at the first bar he sees, it’s a drag bar where Lady Gaga’s Ally Maine works as a waitress but sometimes is allowed to perform. This is a direct reference to Gaga’s own early career, where she played every gay bar in New York City and was quickly embraced by the LGBTQ+ community before becoming a superstar. He is smitten with her, and invites her on tour. Soon a grand romance ensues, but he has many demons that may tear them apart. Very quickly her star starts to rise as his fades.
It’s remarkable how sometimes films that are completely predictable still work, and this is one such case. If you’ve seen any official version of A Star is Born, you know the outcome, and even if you haven’t, you can quickly see where this is going because it’s been emulated in so many other films. The performances are brilliant, Lady Gaga’s whole persona is very much a “performance,” so she is completely natural in the role. Obviously, given her own rise to fame, she was a logical choice. Bradley Cooper directs with broad brushstrokes of pure epic melodrama, which is completely right for this specific story. His performance is flawless as well. He is an actor who just gets better and better with age, his best roles won’t come for another 10 years.
The cast is littered with great performers, Sam Elliot as Jack’s older half-brother and manager Bobby is inspired casting, because he has this extraordinary, world-weary face and can express every emotion just by a facial gesture. He has joked that when he found out about his well-deserved Oscar nomination, he said “it’s about fucking time”. Dave Chappelle plays Jack’s friend, and in a ballsy choice, Andrew Dice Clay plays Ally’s Father Lorenzo. He beat Robert De Niro, John Turturro and John Travolta out for the coveted role. Clay hasn’t done much dramatic work, but it’s a gamble that paid off, he is fantastic.
This new version of A Star is Born is a perfect example of commercial Hollywood filmmaking that works at both a grand and, when necessary, intimate scale. It’s beautifully shot by Matthew Libatique, who normally works on Darren Aronofsky’s films. This gives it a slightly independent film look, which is interesting. They decided to film at real musical festivals so the audiences don’t have that awful CGI copy-and-paste feel that so many music films have…. just see Bohemian Rhapsody for an example of what I mean. I have no idea why it wasn’t considered a musical by the Golden Globes, because it clearly is and the music suits the film perfectly. It seems to have lost some of the Oscar buzz it had initially, but I would much rather have A Star is Born win over a few of the frontrunners at this point. It’s an obvious “Oscar-winning” type of film: it feels more authentic than some, but it has the right amount of artificiality that a great melodrama needs.
The disc includes several deleted music sequences along with music videos and rehearsal footage, plus a solid 30-minute behind-the-scenes documentary that is really well done and pretty informative.