Bradley Cooper (COL ’97) proves that “A Star Is Born,” though in its fourth iteration, is a story worth retelling. With chill-inducing live music and dynamic cinematography, Cooper makes the film his own, bringing this Hollywood classic to life in a way that stands out from its previous three star-studded versions.
Cooper maintains the plot that has been consistent in every version since 1937: a drunken star in decline falls in love with an unbelievably talented girl whom he helps launch into stardom.
Although music plays a large role in all versions of “A Star Is Born,” the intricacies of the songs have often been glossed over. Cooper aptly recognizes this problem and highlights the all-consuming spirit that music brings listeners. He, with his impressive team of songwriters including Lady Gaga, Lukas Nelson and Jason Isbell, meaningfully develop the storyline through each intentional lyric and note.
But what really sets the latest version of “A Star Is Born” apart is the live performances throughout the entire film. The acting of Cooper and Gaga is awe-inspiring; the pure talent and honesty shine brightly. The choice to film all the music live is incredibly engaging from an entertainment perspective alone, but that element also creates a genuine vulnerability that allows the audience to connect with and understand the characters on a new level.
Cooper immerses viewers into the world of country rock star Jackson Maine, played by Cooper, by filming the opening scene onstage. Throughout the film, especially during the concert scenes, Cooper continues to utilize the intimacy of a handheld camera and makes it feel like viewers are part of the action, engaging the audience and humanizing the characters simultaneously.
This deeply personal style of cinematography allows Cooper to include carefully curated details like the dusty cracks on Jackson’s guitar strap and the chips on his Gretsch green guitar that convince the audience of his rock star role before he even opens his mouth. Cooper uses small details like these with every character’s introduction to make each character appear to have lived entire lives before they appear on screen.
The live music and attention to detail can be credited for some of the believability of each character, but the talent of Cooper’s cast cannot be stressed enough. Cooper’s and Gaga’s Oscar-worthy performances are uplifted to a level of authenticity with the help of supporting actors like Dave Chappelle and Sam Elliot who, despite limited screen time, portray characters who feel just as lived-in as the leading roles.
Gaga’s performance was outstanding in her practically seamless transition to acting in the role of the rising star, Ally. The honesty of her expressions in her many close-up shots is remarkable and mesmerizing, especially given that this is her first starring role.
Shockingly, her performance as Ally feels far more real in her early duets with Cooper’s character than her portrayal as the superstar she becomes. Her first song with Cooper, one they write together in an unglamorous parking lot of a grocery store, is notably one of their best moments, as well as one of the most electrifying scenes of the film. When Jackson drags Ally on stage for the first time, Gaga convincingly emits disbelief and determination.
Throughout the film Cooper and Gaga share an instant, effortless chemistry that feels so real, it is hard to believe they are just acting. Right from the start the two characters open up in a way that feels deeply intimate. Even at the beginning of their relationship, Cooper never chooses to romanticize them, which is refreshingly real, especially within the context of Jackson’s alcoholism, an increasingly problematic factor in both his own life and in the lives of those around him as the film progresses.
From the acting to the music to the heartbreaking beauty of the story itself, Cooper’s directorial debut already feels like a classic in its own right. From beginning to end, Cooper and Gaga portray some of the most believable and authentic characters recently seen on screen. With each scene, Cooper pulls the audience into his world and the lives of its characters — so much so that it is difficult to leave when the credits have run.
“A Star Is Born,” to be released in theaters Oct. 5, will surely captivate audiences around the world as one of the best films of the year.