A Star is Born Review: An old song with newer, edgier voices

In the ending stretch of the Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born, there is a line about how music is essentially various retellings of 12 notes in different octaves, from the perspectives of various musicians. I couldn’t help but wonder how apt the dialogue is for a few of our stories as well. A Star is Born has been remade thrice before, including once in Bollywood (Aashiqui 2, in case you were wondering), but Cooper’s version is edgier, with some real moments that linger amid all the glitz.

The story, as the title suggests, is about Ally’s (Lady Gaga) ride to the spotlight. Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a seasoned musician whose alcoholism leads him to a seedy drag bar, where Ally is performing. Mesmerised, he takes her under his wing and gives her the moment in the spotlight she deserved but never got. With that premise, you just know what is next. The young starlet’s rise to success is unsurprisingly juxtaposed with the mentor’s retreat from the stage.

What makes this musical charming, is how Jack and Ally deal with what’s happening to them. There’s a real honesty and earthiness in their moments together that Cooper, the director, sells well. Jack’s earnestness powers the film, often catching you off-guard. In the first scene, I happened to miss Jackson’s full name. I reassured myself that being the star he is, there’s bound to be a line where he is called by his full name. I couldn’t stop smiling when Jackson later wryly observes: “Everybody starts calling you by your full name. I would prefer Jack.” Fame and substance abuse hasn’t made him a cynic. He is used to fame and the incessant crowds around him, but has an easy smile for everyone — even during the iffy moments that stardom puts him in. However, there is a perennial dash of sadness in Jackson’s eyes that, even in the happy moments, foretells of the impending doom. He knows that Ally will become the star she was meant to be. “All you need to do is just trust me,” he says. Later, as they share a moment on stage together, he seems to anticipate the dark times ahead when he says, “Always remember us this way.” Cooper effortlessly brings Jack to life with a performance that is effective because it is sincere.

But the show truly belongs to Lady Gaga, who packs quite a punch with her intense portrayal. She is terrific as Ally, and as she begins La vie en rose, it isn’t just Jack who is pushed into aural stupor. She is truly at home, mesmerisingly so. Just watch her hit those higher octaves with varying intensity. But the awkwardness does peep in during the non-musical stretches. Ally is a bit too ready — ready for the stage, for the stardom.

The songs that Cooper and Gaga perform are a bit like the film itself — no-nonsense, effective and a tad old-school, refreshingly so. They have a vibe that feels like a greeting from an old friend — a sense of familiarity under all the newness. You can say that about the film as well. Beneath all the familiarity, there are emotions that are still relevant; a narrative, that if told well, will always have takers.
This was originally written for The New Indian Express. You can find it here.

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