“We’re far from the shallow, now” goes the lyrics to the already spectacularly success song “Shallow” from A Star Is Born, a perfect summation of Bradley Cooper‘s assured and superb directorial debut. The title may showcase the birth of a new musical superstar but under the surface water is a gripping drama that’s as much about the music and celebrity as it is the human condition; the demons we have to slay, physical and/or mental, the sacrifices we must make and those we may lose along the way. Oh, and amazing songs, of course.
Cooper fought tooth and dagger to not only make the film his directorial debut but to make it his way – a more personal, intimate story about two musicians who are crossing each other so to speak in the game stakes. Jackson Maine (Cooper) has had all the success but is reaching his moonlight period and struggling with to maintain it, turning to drink and drugs just to keep going. On a random night in a random bar, he spots Ally (Lady Gaga) as she performs “La Vie en Rose” and the rest, as they say, is history. Her star soars, his crashes back to Earth with a thunderous bang.
Balancing such themes and narratives can be a tricky business but Cooper is so assured and measured in his approach, meticulous to the last detail, that you’d have thought he had been doing this for decades. And while its a story that has been told many times they haven’t had nearly as much beauty and power as this one.
Gaga, making her leading debut after a few choice cameos in such hits as Machete Kills, disappears before our very eyes for Ally to emerge as the star. Even in her singing you can hear the subtle differences in the performance – this isn’t the artist that sells out to millions across the globe, whose voice is distinctive, this is a singer who begins as a unconfident and uncomfortable performer that soon emerges from the shallow waters into a megastar.
Cooper was adamant on stripping her comforts away so she laid bare, even removing all of Gaga’s make-up when they first auditioned, and every moment of her performance is transformative and utterly mesmeric. And don’t let all the pre-hype about Gaga cloud how magnificent Cooper is himself in the film as the gruff leading man Jackson Maine – he’s on a par and while he may get sidelined in the acting stakes for directing, it’s one of the year’s finest male performances.
Sure, there are a few bum notes along the way but this are so sporadic and minute that it just shows what a sensational film has been made by Cooper and co. Lady Gaga will take the headlines – and deservedly so – but there’s so much more to discover if you dive a little deeper.
Scot J.Davis | [rating=5]
Drama, Music | USA, 2018 | 15 | 3rd October 2018 (UK) | Warner Bros Pictures | Dir.Bradley Cooper | Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle, Andrew Dice Clay