This version of A Star Is Born, starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, is the fourth iteration (Janet Gaynor and Frederic March, 1937; Judy Garland and James Mason, 1954; Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, 1976). So it’s a remake of a remake of a remake and overly familiar, you would think. Oh God, not another fella who can’t take it when her career eclipses his, boo hoo. Would a reboot with the genders flipped but the age gap preserved ever get made? Not a hope, is the short answer. But, but, but… I did cry, and Lady Gaga is truly sensational, fabulous, a revelation. I had no idea. Cooper directs, and also co-wrote, but it is her film, and one must hope that he can suck that up. Bradley, don’t go and do anything stupid, you hear?
This remake of a remake of a remake opens with Jackson Maine (Cooper) on stage and performing to a mighty, swaying, adoring crowd as he plays guitar and sings. (All the songs were written mostly by either Cooper or Gaga and are performed live.) He is a rock star even though his voice sounds weary, and he appears weary, and he rarely makes eye contact and hangs his head, wearily. He also keeps reaching for the vodka bottle — he doesn’t like himself much, clearly. He is sad, clearly — but heading away from the venue in his limo he realises he’s out of booze, so asks his driver to stop at a bar.
It’s a drag bar where Ally (Gaga) happens to be appearing. She waits tables by day but sings by night. She belts out Piaf’s ‘La Vie En Rose’, and it’s a barnstorming rendition. Jackson is stunned and I was stunned too. (I’m embarrassed to say that I hadn’t ever paid much attention to Lady Gaga beyond noticing that she sometimes wears dresses made of meat.) They end up spending the night together — not sexually, but hanging out around town. In previous versions of the film he’s always been involved in some kind of drunken brawl, but here it’s Ally who punches the fan who won’t leave Jackson alone. It’s not our gender flip with the age gap preserved, which would have been properly interesting — an older, powerful woman giving a young man a leg-up? That’s the film I want to see. But it is something. He then nurses her swollen hand with frozen peas, while still wearily hanging his head, which I found bothersome as so much dialogue was lost to his beard. Still, she is smitten, and he is smitten, and there is genuine, bone fide chemistry. I was longing for them to jump into bed.
The first hour is the better hour but that may just be because we like the upward trajectory — when they’re loved up and her greatness is starting to be recognised — more than the downward trajectory, when he’s forced to play in a Roy Orbison tribute band, the alcoholism takes hold and he wets himself at the Grammys. To be fair, there’s been some attempt to not make it solely about his career being eclipsed, boo hoo. His childhood was unhappy, we learn. (Or at least I think we learned that when he mumbled about it to his brother.) And his anger is fuelled more by the music industry trying to change Ally into someone she isn’t. But it’s the love story that has to be believable, and it is — I cried, remember? — plus the songs are terrific and Lady Gaga, in simple jeans and T-shirt (no meat), commands attention in every frame in a way that seems wholly authentic. A star is certainly born but Bradley, don’t do anything stupid.
This article was originally published in The Spectator magazine.