Rising stars, raising emotional tempos

Shivers down my spine, a clench in my throat. This deserves an Oscar, I thought. In my mind I gave a thousand applause for A Star Is Born as the credits finally roll in.

In his directorial debut, Bradley Cooper tells a serendipitous romance that keeps both its characters and the audience in the moment. Cropping each frame purposely in each of the leads’ line of sight, he delivers a story in an immersive and intimate manner.

We meet Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) and Ally (Lady Gaga) in the same pace as the leads actually do. That makes every evoked emotion on screen so raw, so authentic that it’s inevitable not to be swayed.

The romance folds out instantaneously, a natural link founded in creating and living for music. It’s a love that developed so fast, but it’s one that makes all the sense. It begins like this: Rock superstar Jackson first sees Ally perform on stage and is completely enamored as he hears her soulful rendition of La Vie en Rose.

What he saw in her was unlike any other: A natural songwriter, a performer whose presence is long overdue on the stage. One with a voice that would serenade the world into the depths of an honest soul’s sentiments, if only she was more confident with her compositions and capability.

Stefani Germanotta (Lady Gaga) in her first major role is the perfect fit to bring Ally to life. She lends a remarkable authenticity to the role, with people very much aware of who she is and who she has become. But it’s her emotional might that captures attention regardless of the moment portrayed on screen—the sudden shifts to reality, the shared momentous performances on stage, the stillness that comes immediately after the pandemonium.

On the other half of the stage, Jackson drags us into a whirlwind we expected to be prepared for, only to find ourselves shattered nonetheless. A rock god to hundreds and thousands of fans, he allows Ally to soar yet stay grounded. 

A Star is Born remains a story of success eclipsed by a tragedy. A tragedy that is witnessed by Jackson, and later feels responsible for its unfolding. The film hands over the soul-crushing process of being recognized as an artist, where greatness fades into the fame and inner voices get drowned in the applause.

Cooper doesn’t only give us deft direction, his vision thrives in faithful affection. He demonstrates the blissful feeling of becoming alone together, and then of devastating solidarity.

In particular, I found myself mesmerized by the way Cooper sparingly used reflections in his frames. It carries such delicate subtlety, where emotions are so transparent yet shown in such beautiful oblivion. His grand tapestry is held by the masterful balance of emotions dealt by artistic demise and atonement.

What remains projected on screen is pretty straightforward. They meet, they fall in love, they lose themselves, they fall out. But it is music—of course, it is the music—that elevates the story. It immerses us into the subliminal, and makes us understand and see the vulnerabilities and sentiments beneath that linger in such honest moments.

Shallow. Music in My Eyes. Always Remember Us This Way. Too Far Gone. I’ll Never Love Again. These are songs that are chock-full of emotions brought into light. Ones that will take you back to the film’s most haunting moments—with tears forming once again followed precisely by heartache—once you hear it playing once again.

The movie is a retelling, a genuine depiction of stories we have long witnessed before. But just as music repeatedly proves, what has already been sung can always find a new melody again.


Photos courtesy of Warner Brothers.

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