TIFF Review: A Star is Born
by Raquel Stecher
A Star is Born
dir. Bradley Cooper
Starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga
Before I begin my review of A Star is Born (2018) I would like to acknowledge the movies that came before it:
What Price Hollywood? (1932)
Constance Bennett, Lowell Sherman
A Star is Born (1937)
Janet Gaynor, Fredric March
A Star is Born (1954)
Judy Garland, James Mason
A Star is Born (1976)
Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson
Hollywood has a long tradition of revisiting and remaking its own stories. A Star is Born has evolved over the past 80+ years from a story about actors to a story about musicians. But the essence has stayed the same. What happens when an established star, on the path towards self-destruction, meets an unknown talent and falls in love? Out of the ashes of one career comes the genesis of another. A star is born.
Having seen all of the previous versions, I came to this latest iteration of A Star is Born ready to compare it to all of those other movies. And you know what, Cooper’s movie holds its own.
There are many ways in which Cooper’s A Star is Born improves upon the previous versions as well as makes this classic story relatable to a new audience. These added layers enhanced the overall story.
- The relationship between Jackson and Ally is fleshed out more and their physical attraction to each other is palpable. While the 1937 version is still my favorite, Gaynor and March’s romance is tender but there is no sexual chemistry there. And there is no chemistry at all between James Mason and Judy Garland in the 1954 version. Fast forward to 1976 and we get a bit of chemistry with Kristofferson and Streisand (but it didn’t help that they didn’t get along in real life). In the 2018 version Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper helps us understand not only why Jackson and Ally were attracted to each other but what drew them together as artists and as individuals. It’s a more well-rounded portrait of a romantic relationship.
- In addition to Jackson Maine’s drinking problem, he as degenerative hearing loss which adds another layer of drama to his tragedy.
- SEMI-SPOILER: Jackson Maine’s suicide is depicted differently than in the previous versions and the method is more relevant to the conversation regarding suicide today. Also there is an added element that serves as a gut punch to the audience.
- Pays homage to previous versions including the one last look/goodbye, the bathtub scene from the 1976 version, this is Mrs. Jackson Maine, etc.
- Ally and Jackson Maine collaborate in their live performances and song writing. We see the pairs in the previous versions work together to some extent but it’s more substantial here. The mentor-student relationship here is key until Ally outgrows her need for Jackson’s guidance.
- Lady Gaga’s Ally and Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine are presented fairly equally. The 1954 version is a Judy Garland showcase and the 1976 is meant to highlight Barbra Streisand, even though Kristofferson gets some good screen time too. It was more even handed in the 2018 which to me seemed more true to the 1937 version with Gaynor and March being almost equal counterparts in the story.
- Lady Gaga shows true vulnerability in her performance as Ally which is not something I got from Gaynor, Garland or Streisand. Or even Bennett. All are superb actresses who deliver on their own vision for the part but Gaga’s Ally felt the most real to me.
- Added characters like Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s father and Dave Chapelle as Jackson’s best friend are great for enhancing our understanding of the two main leads. Ally’s relationship with her father shows us that she’s always been taking care of the men in her life. Jackson’s best friend sticks by him through the worst further showing us how difficult it is to have someone in your life who is completely self-destructing.
- Anthony Ramos as Ally’s BFF can be seen as a call back to the 1937 version where Gaynor’s Lester has a close friend, played by Andy Devine, who has been there for her since the beginning and see her through ups and downs. Sam Elliott’s Bobby takes the manager role to a deeper level with Bobby and Jackson as brothers. The added family dynamic enhances the drama. The two brothers have their own A Star is Born storyline with Bobby’s failed musical career.
- Garland, Streisand and Lady Gaga are all icons in the gay community. In this new film, it pays homage to that with Gaga’s Ally performing La Vie en Rose in a nightclub. She’s the only female in a line-up of drag queens and it’s at this point where Ally and Jackson meet. At the A Star is Born Press Conference at TIFF, Lady Gaga proclaimed “I wouldn’t be here without the gay community.”
A Star is Born (2018) has a lot to offer movie-going audiences. When I watched it at TIFF I was blown away by the stellar performances and the original takes on the story. I left telling myself “this is what a movie should be.” It should be an experience, one that touches your heart and makes you swell with emotion. This is all in addition to the amazing music performed and in part written by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. These are the types of songs that give you goose bumps and take your breath away.
A Star is Born (2018) hits theaters October 5th.
I attended a press and industry screening as well as a press conference for A Star is Born at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.