Two stars are born in latest remake of Hollywood classic “A Star Is Born”

Alex Holmes

In a world where Hollywood is known more for reboots, sequels, and spinoffs than refreshing creativity, it is rare to see a remake of a film that offers a successful new take on the original. When the fourth remake of “A Star Is Born” was announced, with Bradley Cooper directing and starring alongside Lady Gaga, it looked to be a stale retread of an all too familiar story. Fortunately for Hollywood—and its audience—this latest “A Star Is Born” is anything but stale.

Sure, the story is old school: popular rock star Jackson Maine (Cooper), meets aspiring singer-songwriter Ally (Gaga), whom he falls in love with and brings great fame. She rises while he falls. There have been four previous film versions of this narrative, starting with 1932’s “What Price Hollywood?” The most recent version was 1976’s “A Star Is Born,” which was the first to change the setting from Hollywood to the musical world.

This year’s “A Star Is Born” implements music into the storyline with grace, seamlessly transitioning from the loud, pulsing atmosphere of one of Jackson’s concerts to the absolute silence of his limo. These are complemented by quiet, intimate moments of Ally singing from the heart.

The music itself is outstanding. The film uses a variety of different genres to move the plot forward. Jackson’s songs are part rock and part alt-country, while Ally’s skew more towards pop music. It’s a safe bet that one of the songs from this film will win the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Both the chill-inducing “Shallow” and the heart-wrenching “I’ll Never Love Again” are worthy picks.

The performance scenes are some of the best in the movie. The film opens with one of Jackson’s concerts, where he is performing “Black Eyes,” a loud, exciting rock song that pumps up the audience. Matthew Libatique’s cinematography is in-your-face, but in the best way possible. His camera gets up close and personal with Jackson and his guitar, and most of the shots are flooded by the lights from the concert. This technique puts you in the moment, and the concerts throughout the film are exhilarating.

Cooper is an established screen presence, but his performance ranks as one of his best. He actually changed his voice for the role, imitating fellow actor Sam Elliott (who also appears in the film). The imitation is spot-on, with his resulting gravelly voice drawing you in.  

Gaga, in her first major film role, shines as Ally, giving a naturalistic, stripped-down performance that goes hand-in-hand with her off-screen persona. She is best known as a singer who wears a heavy amount of makeup in her performances. In the film, however, she appears bare-faced, and her (and Ally’s) inner conflict about her appearance is revealed. Ally says she doesn’t feel comfortable singing her own songs because, “almost every single person has told me they like the way I sounded, but they didn’t like the way I look.”

Elliott turns in a solid performance as Jackson’s older brother Bobby, that I bet will be nominated for Best Supporting Actor come January. Bobby is angry at Jackson for “stealing” his voice to become a star, but he still supports Jackson no matter what.

Unfortunately, the film is hampered slightly by Rafi Gavron’s character, Rez, who is Ally’s talent agent and responsible in part for her rise and Jackson’s fall. He is a walking cliché who solely exists to create conflict within the plot. Rez is portrayed only as a villain, to be blamed for everything bad that happens in the third act. Ally’s rise to fame, and, according to Jack, move away from “traditional” performance, is not tracked well in the film, and some scenes feel out of nowhere.

In the end, the good outweighs the bad in “A Star Is Born.” Freshened by Cooper’s direction, an outstanding cast, sublime music, and cinematographic perfection, this is a rare Oscar-worthy remake. It’s ironic that in the film, Jackson tries, but is unable to, rebrand himself as “new” and “fresh,” because both Cooper and Gaga have shown their chops in roles different from what they usually do. This year, two stars have been reborn: Gaga as an actress, and Cooper as a director.