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A Star Is Born

Year: 2018
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Bradley Cooper
Writer: Eric Roth/Bradley Cooper/Will Fetters
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Andrew Dice Clay, Sam Elliott, Rafi Gavron, Dave Chapelle, Alec Baldwin, Ron Rifkin, Greg Grunberg, Eddie Griffin

I haven't seen any other versions of this story – I'm sure there are more than just the Streisand/Kristofferson version and a much older one with Judy Garland, in sentiment if not outright remake.

And honestly, I think you have to be biologically made of the kind of stuff that likes musicals to really love it. Not that this was one – there were musical numbers by virtue of it being about singers but they all existed in the universe of the story. And even someone like me with no knowledge of or particular interest in popular music has to admit what an astonishing voice Lady Gaga has.

To be fair to it, it came the closest to being enjoyable as a movie about singing stars could possibly be. Maybe I'd be more interested if the same template was applied to writers, movie stars or even politicians.

You can't deny what a strong creative vision Bradley Cooper has as a director, the camera as shaky, grizzled and cynical as his character – rock star Jackson Maine – but even without the personal baggage of movies about music there were narrative stumbles that didn't so much as pull me out of the experience as nudge me sideways.

Jack's stumbling through life when we meet him. He performs to sellout crowds who love him but can barely collapse into the limo afterward to pop pills and wipe himself out with alcohol, lurching from one binge or show to another and looking like he just wants it to end despite the money and fame.

When he tells his driver to drop him at a neighbourhood dive bar one such night, he only intends to get slowly drunk. Even though it's a drag bar and the proprietor, Rez (Rafi Gavron) can't believe they have a megastar in their midst, it's not until Ally (Lady Gaga) takes the stage to sing that Jack's ears prick up, and he's more interested in something other than a bottle than he's been in years.

He visits Ally in the dressing room where he sings her praises, asking her if she writes her own songs. But Ally's a middle class Italian kid from the suburbs and has no confidence to perform her own material. Nevertheless she starts spending a lot of time with Jack and romance blossoms.

After he finally convinces her to sing her own songs and Ally's career explodes, the dynamic in their relationship shifts. Jack's uneasy promise that he won't ruin their lives through his addictions is tenuous at best, and whether he's jealous at her rising star or genuinely believes she's selling out to sharks in the industry isn't very clear, but cracks show.

And that's on top of all his other problems, including a fractious relationship with his road manager and older brother Bobby (Sam Elliott, more animated than he's been in years).

The two big missteps are the unintentional laughter at the Grammy Awards sequence, where Jack's embarrassing accident on stage while Ally's dreams are all coming true was supposed to be high tragedy but elicited laughs in the theatre as well as the on-screen audience, and that slap-across-the-face climax.

If I'd seen the other versions I might have a bit more context, and what Jackson ultimately does might be in keeping with his character, I just found it so hard to believe he'd do it after the provocation he was faced with. If something as unimportant as a snivelling A&R executive can cause such a loss of self-belief and prompt such a drastic reaction, there was probably no hope for him the whole time.

Cooper is treading a well worn path of hairy, grizzled rock stars – look no further than Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart before him. And while it's not exactly Oscar-worthy work, he commits to it whole-heartedly.

But it's Lady Gaga as Ally who really shines. We've seen singers who prove they can really act before (Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard comes to mind), and she has real talent. I also had no idea of her real, 'human' persona, only knowing her as a famous, remote figure with ridiculous dresses and huge hair. With all that taken away she is (or at least, plays) a working class, second generation young American woman really effectively.

It's got a good sense of mood, the colours and effects evoking the feeling of the characters – a really unsung skill in directing that's nevertheless important, and one Cooper gets right. The performance footage is lively and sweeps you up in it, and if the genre is to your taste you'll eat it right up.

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