For our next Film Club meeting on Wednesday 14th September at 4.30pm, we will be chatting about the Oscar-winning latest rendition of A Star is Born (2018), starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. Buckle up for dizzying highs and tragic lows, as Carolyn guides you through one woman’s rise to stardom and one man’s fall from grace.
Grand passion, the shimmering allure of fame and the dark side of the dream are the essence of A Star is Born. This is doomed romance with big feelings, the occasional punch and big songs.
The plot – male performer in decline meets female talent on the way up – is so compelling that we’ve had four versions of it now. The first (1937) and second version (1954 with an Oscar-nominated Judy Garland) were about making it in Hollywood. In 1976 Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand shifted the action to the music industry. Streisand’s then-partner Jon Peters produced in ‘76 and he helped produce the 2018 version too.
The latest production stars Bradley Cooper, with scraggly 70s-style hair and the sweaty lankness of substance abuse, as rock star Jackson Maine. Cooper also directed, contributed to the Grammy Award-winning soundtrack, co-wrote the screenplay and did 18 months of voice training to convincingly portray a musician.
His co-star is bona fide chart-topper Lady Gaga who performs without the artifice of her early pop career and is surprisingly effective as aspiring vocalist Ally. Lady Gaga not only sings but co-wrote the movie’s mega-hit Shallow, which won an Oscar and has close to 1.5 billion views on YouTube. The film also won a Bafta for best music.
A Star Is Born is a story of success and fortune, but equally of trauma and addiction, how no stardom is bright enough to erase all loss, damage, or the decline of a once-transcendent gift. Jack gives Ally her start, but rapidly becomes her millstone.
The screenplay rushes a couple of emotional beats but effectively conveys the bond that Jack and Ally forge in music. Gaga insisted on singing live and the results have an authenticity that movies set in this milieu often lack. With this kind of film, actors often end up miming awkwardly to other artists, but in Star the musical performances are real and integral to the characters’ growth and both Gaga and Cooper received Academy Award nods for their portrayals.
When we meet Ally, she’s a put-upon waitress. Out late one inebriated night after a concert, Jack stumbles into a drag club where Ally is about to channel Piaf singing La Vie en Rose. Captivated by her, the evening evolves into a brawl in another bar, warbling in a parking lot and tender ministrations with frozen peas. Jack is intrigued by a woman who not only sings but will defend his honour while remaining unfazed by his celebrity.
Jack pursues her and he’s catnip to an empathetic female – handsome, successful and incredibly generous. But he’s also fragile, a magnetic ruin hurtling to the bottom, and Ally’s been primed to care for needy men. At one point Jack wakes up in a front garden – as all good rock stars do – and, sensing that Ally’s starting to recognise the extent of his addiction, he sweeps her into marriage. A euphoric addict can be seductive, but it’s only a matter of time before the mood turns, and Jack reveals a mean side when Ally’s ascent is a little too stellar for his liking.
Their journeys are contrasted with an evocative montage of Jack crushing a pill with a boot before bumbling, barely coherent, on stage as Ally gets glam for a new and adoring fan base. Jack’s belief and clout propels Ally to fame, but when he embarrasses her in a hideously public way, the shame is palpable.
The chemistry between Cooper and Gaga make you care about these characters, as does Jack’s ultimate sacrifice. Settle in with some tissues for what The New York Times called “gorgeous heartbreak” and a well-crafted tale of gifted but ill-starred lovers on different trajectories.
If you decide to treat yourself to watching A Star is Born, we’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Join us on Wednesday 14th September at 4.30pm to share your musings and hear your fellow members’ takes on this tear-jerking rollercoaster of a film.
A former theatre and comedy critic, Carolyn O’ Donnell was a senior journalist at The Times and has written extensively on arts and culture. Her travel writing has appeared in The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, and many airline magazines. In 2021 she won the Christopher Hewitt Award for fiction.