By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted to BD 4 December 2018)
‘A Star Is Born’ only premiered in Western movie theatres in October of this year. Yet this musical romantic drama has already received massive critical acclaim, earning over USD357 million at the box office at last count and qualifying as one of the top ten films of 2018, according to the American National Board of Review.
That same board also handed Bradley Cooper (who co-produced, co-scripted and co-stars in the film) an award for ‘Best Director’; Lady Gaga (Cooper’s co-star) won Best Actress and Sam Elliott got Best Supporting Actor.
So what’s so special about this film, apart from the discovery that Lady Gaga (who’s best known as an eccentric singer-dancer) can seriously act. She plays the part of Ally, a shy young singer-songwriter who the popular country-music singer Jackson Maine (Cooper) meets in a gay bar where she’s singing her heart out.
Maine’s a troubled alcoholic who falls for Ally whose singing career he insists on launching. Both Cooper and Gaga’s performances are amazing, first because of the discovery that she can seriously act and second because Cooper can also sing and play guitar, skills he learned especially to make this film.
The film is both touching and tragic. But it’s also got brilliant musical sessions in which both stars sing and wow massive crowds. And for the sake of authenticity, a big chunk of the movie was shot at the Coachella Valley Music Festival in California where thousands of fans had already gathered to watch other rock ‘n roll stars perform.
The story itself is so compelling that it’s been made over several times since it premiered in 1937. It was remade as a musical starring Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954. It got remade again as a film in 1976 starring Barbara Streisand and Cris Kristofferson. And even Bollywood adapted the story in 2013. Yet the public has clearly never tires of seeing this story of a love affair between two brilliant musicians unfold and implode before your eyes.
It’s the alcohol and drugs that do Jackson Maine in. But there’s more to the tragedy than his addiction alone. There’s the challenge of her musical success and his supposed undermining of it. Yet the story is not that simple, and that’s largely why it’s such a bitter-sweet tale. It’s a real tear jerker, even if you’re not a lover of romance films. I’m not normally, but the characters are complex and so deeply drawn and sweet that you can’t help wishing their relationship would work. It almost does but there are many intervening forces that make the film’s ending inevitable.
In the end, what endures about A Star is Born is the marvelous music.