Stars Align in A Star Is Born

There’s something ironic about having Lady Gaga portraying an up-and-coming singer in A Star Is Born. Having achieved her rise through mega-hits like Just Dance and Bad Romance, to see her embody an average, country-tinged individual riding the pathway to fame is almost jarring. However, in Bradley Cooper’s remake of the classic film, her brilliant performance reflects how above average she really is in one of the best films of the year.

The film, the third remake following Judy Garland’s in 1954 and Barbra Streisand’s 1976 rock musical, centers around Ally (Gaga), a waitress discovered by musician — and alcoholic — Jackson Maine (Cooper, playing the dual role of actor and first-time director). It takes us throughout the highs and lows of their careers and relationship, hitting the usual beats of the rise-to-fame story. It’s a simplistic plot, but, over the course of its two hours and 16 minutes, it works.

And, to add to the irony, it shouldn’t work. We’ve seen this story play out in many films (Walk The Line and Straight Outta Compton come to mind, among others) that it’s almost frustrating to go through it again, but there’s one thing that sets A Star Is Born apart—its acting.

In portraying Ally, Gaga trades in her glamour for grittiness—her character’s normal life making it hard to believe this is the same headline-dominating person of the past ten years. She flows through each scene effortlessly, displaying the subtleties required in both musical scenes and emotional checkpoints. And, for her first major film role (outside of brief appearances in Robert Rodriguez’s Machete Kills and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), she holds up well alongside veterans like Cooper and Sam Elliott.

That’s in large part due to Cooper’s direction. A four-time Academy Award nominee, Cooper brings his on-screen nuance behind the camera, adding humanity to each scene. In moments when Jackson begins to stumble drunkenly, one can’t help but admire the balancing act Cooper has taken on, channeling the talent of past collaborators like David O. Russell and Clint Eastwood behind the scenes while delivering one of his best performances in recent years. And he can naturally sing, which helps.

And that’s what’s at the core of A Star Is Born — the music. The film’s first scene is of Maine playing at a festival, setting the expectation of a musically-dominating film. That carries throughout, with Maine guiding Ally through the works of the industry in between songs. It also helps that Gaga’s voice is dominating in its own right, with the film’s centerpiece song, Shallow, falling in place among ballads like You and I and The Edge of Glory.

That music is pivotal toward the end, with the ascension of Ally and descension of Jackson converging in what becomes a riveting end. In her final number, Gaga delivers on the promise of the title — becoming the actress she should have always been as her character becomes a star.

A Star Is Born is playing now.