Bradley Cooper has come a long way since flailing around on a lawn in 2005’s lackluster, The Wedding Crashers. He may not have made waves as that peripheral character, but he gave it his all and in many ways that turn put him on the map.
Similarly, despite the worldwide success of The Hangover franchise, as the leading man he could have fallen victim to poor role choices. Instead he used it as a platform, carefully curating his portfolio of work and angling it towards the craft of directing. Even on a famous early episode of Inside The Actor’s Studio, a young, brazen Cooper stumps interviewee, Robert De Niro with one of the most memorable student questions, alluding to a character tick in Awakenings. The footage does more than pin him as a diligent student of his craft, it shows that this wasn’t just a Q&A forum to him; it was a role on a stage that he was going to use for all it’s worth. Cooper is well adept at turning water into wine with his career choices and his spearheading of the most recent remake of A Star is Born justifies his incessant insistence to rise to the top of his game.
A Star Is Born has been Cooper’s child for over four years, delicately handling each intricate detail of the process. Directing, acting, singing and song-writing appears to come second nature to him, and miraculously the culmination of these elements has paid off. Cooper is Jackson Maine, a hybrid country and rock singer who stumbles across a young woman with an undiscovered voice. It’s a remake of the Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson version, done right.
Cooper is simply astounding as Jackson Maine, having dropped an octave for the role, bearing a striking resemblance to Sam Elliot, who by some miracle is cast as the character’s older brother. The young woman plucked from obscurity is Ally, portrayed by the enigmatic Lady Gaga, who for the first time strips back the wacky elements which made her name. Her stripped back appearance is almost baptismal as we witness her in her purest form, sans make and with natural hair colouring. Jackson Maine lends a helping hand to the struggling ingenue, having been stunned by her voice and tasered by her personality, by giving her a platform to perform on stage.
There’s a sizzling dynamic at play, a burning fire between them, but cruelly built on the fragile foundations of codependency. Jackson Maine is on top of the world when he finds her, plucking her from near obscurity and thrusting her onto a world stage. She shines brightly and as her star burns, his recedes and drugs and alcohol rapidly accelerate his disintegration at a quicker pace. We watch the mercury alternately rise and fall as the couple attempt to battle their own demons. There’s echoes of Walk the Line here, Carter and Cash vocally battling it out on stage, vying for the other’s love and affection, but crippled in their personal life behind the curtain. As Ally’s accolades roll in, Jackson deteriorates, manifesting in addiction and a worsening case of tinnitus. Ally and Jackson are inextricably bound and each ebb and flow of their relationship has a knock on effect on the lucidity of their respective stars. The relentless tugging of this dichotomy is sad in its reality; after all it’s not called Two Stars are Born.
There’s weak parts within however, such as Ally’s manager, a young Aussie who is tasked with portraying the role of the evil record agent, stealing her from Jackson and dangling her in the spotlight. His two dimensional agenda demeans the overall theme. There’s also no denying that Cooper’s overall aesthetic is 1970’s inclined, with warm mahogany dominating the decor. He loses this at the halfway mark however, as Gaga’s character is thrust into the mainstream, decked in pop colours and bleached hair. Although a deliberate stylistic route change, this foray into commercialism stunts the lovely style and pace he’d carefully constructed up to that point.
Cooper has an extraordinary eye for shots, some are Greengrass in their style as is customary for stage sequences; following the performer’s rhythm like a documentary filmmaker on the frontline. Even Gaga’s first acappella rendition is beautifully orchestrated in front of a 24 hour supermarket, the neon lights hosting her performance as if on stage at Coachella.
As evidenced in his script, Cooper is also particularly adept at capturing the profane in life, perhaps taking greater strides to perfect these than the actual bones of the script; he’s making sure the arteries work first and that’s commendable. Cooper’s determination to utilize the full toolkit of his artistic license bears fruit, as his complete control of the various elements is exquisite in its delivery. Cooper grabbed the bull by the horns here and his unwieldy passion for creative control is mirrored in a story bursting with yearning for unfulfilled dreams and the reality of dreams once fulfilled.
Above all, there’s truth to the story. In the same manner in which La La Land was internalized on a different level that strayed from realism, A Star Is Born must similarly not be taken at face value but instead viewed by what it implies. In the profane, mumbling moments. In the intimate revelations of self conscious doubts. In the demons that encircle the couple. In the lyrics of the soundtrack. Albeit in an embellished and romantic vein, Cooper has done what he has seemingly always set out to do, by unabashedly telling the truth.
There’s a poignant scene with Sam Elliot in which ironically he accuses Cooper’s character of ‘stealing his voice,’ which in theory he certainly did. Jackson Maine cryptically responds with ‘that’s because you had nothing to say,’ and from this exchange we can infer the voice that Cooper has been bursting to use for years. In dialogue and in lyrics there’s a voice that he’s using and he wants someone to listen.