Review: The Stars Dazzle, But ‘A Star Is Born’ Fails in Politics
A Star Is Born is a film of great quandary. The arc of it takes you to the realm of those big-sized feelings, but the inherent politics make you realise how mainstream cinema can still fail the agency of a woman.
American leading man Bradley Cooper has chosen one of the most imperishable myths of Hollywood for his directorial debut, that of a romance between a fading star and a nobody whose ascent will propel the former into a point of no return.
The last Hollywood version featuring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson (which also inspired the soppy Indian version Aashiqui 2) finds a contemporary groove here with Cooper casting himself as a country-rock star, Jackson Maine. His long-haired, bearded singer speaks in a purring voice, aided by alcohol and drugs. He meets Ally (Lady Gaga) belting out a ravishing rendition of La Vie en Rose at a drag bar, perhaps a wink at the singer’s iconic status in the LGBTQ community.
This casting of Gaga is the trump card of the film. Stripped to her bare-boned beauty, she is a revelation. Cooper demystifies her pop diva persona to reveal an underside so humane that you break with Ally’s vulnerability. And Gaga abiding by the rubrics of cinematic heartbreaks offers an acting range that is imperative to the movie’s lore.
Cooper is a man who clearly understands the magic of the big screen. He mounts scenes of stardom with flourishing sweep, but looks at it through eyes that understand intimacy. Ministered by Matthew Libatique’s lens, the concerts drown you in the reverie of music, but you’re always aware of the presence of lovers.
The writing (Cooper wrote it with Eric Roth and Will Fetters) is aware of the film’s legacy: sentimentality that is earnest. And that is largely well-earned because Cooper and Gaga rolling in the deep waters of emotions build a ship of love and sacrifice that is at once very tactile, very fragile. Their physical chemistry, singing like koels in a mating dance, is made of that invisible ingredient in the stars that only moving images can explain. So when the inevitable tragedy drops on us, despite being prepared, we fall, fall like a pack of cards.
Ally’s family, friends and her lover Jackson, never really listen to her when she says ‘no’. Which brings us to the essential appeal of A Star Is Born, its endless obsession with the contraptions of stardom, built by masculine capital, and female obedience. Cooper, despite being able to curate an ocean of warmth through his images, fails to recognise the issues of a fabled saga. Like Ally’s compliance, he too is subservient to the perpetual myth – no means yes. And that’s the real tragedy.
(The writer is a journalist, a screenwriter, and a content developer who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. He tweets @RanjibMazumder).