Last week, Lady Gaga announced that "Shallow," the hit single from the new film A Star is Born had been released on Spotify, and I've been listening to little else since. It's a slow-burn duet, performed by both of the film's stars, Bradley Cooper and Gaga, and in addition to being a powerhouse ballad, it's also one of film's best and most joyous moments.
Rockabilly star Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) has already met young Ally (Lady Gaga) at a gay bar after one of his concerts. They go for drinks, and he is immediately smitten with her and her songwriting chops, though Ally admits she never sings her own songs because the music industry "loves how she sounds, but hates how she looks." Though it takes some coaxing, Maine manages to get his driver to bring Ally, via private jet, to his gig the next night, and bring her backstage. Ally can scarcely believe what's happening to her. She's standing in the wings when Maine walks over and tells her that he has arranged a song she'd sung pieces of the night before. He wants her to sing it. She protests.
"I'm singing it either way," he says, and shrugs playfully.
But Maine's aim is not to steal Ally's song; he wants to celebrate her talent, to showcase an artist who has moved him. (He's an alcoholic who hasn't found much joy in performing in some time.) "Shallow" begins, and Cooper, who affects a gravelly twang in his dialogue, acquits himself admirably on the mic. Ally, in disbelief, psyches herself out and joins him on stage to perform her song, taking over the second verse and then the soaring chorus and bridge. (While you'll have to suspend your disbelief with respect to the successful arrangement and the impromptu harmonies, it's an incredible moment.) The film opens Friday in wide release and is an early buzzy favorite for this year's award season.
The film, then, focuses on Ally's rise and Maine's decline. After touring with Maine and performing a solo encore that brings down the house, Ally gets noticed by a major producer and soon becomes a pop sensation. Maine descends further into alcoholism and, soon, musical irrelevance. Their love is complicated by what Maine perceives as Ally's selling out, and by Maine's own boorish behavior under the influence of substances.
Punctuated by Lady Gaga's showstopping vocals and by more than one devastating scene of embarrassment brought on by drunkenness, the film presents a uniquely complicated love story that also portrays celebrities as sympathetic human beings.
The film is a remake of a familiar story. Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand both played the Gaga role in earlier versions. It is also Bradley Cooper's directorial debut. He received an Oscar nod for his turn as the mentally unstable protagonist in Silver Linings Playbook, and may nab another for his performance here, as a man damaged and salvaged in other ways. His twang never stops sounding like a "voice," but he is redeemed in his desperate adoration of Ally.
Lady Gaga, rest assured, is just as magnetic on screen as she is on stage. One can't help seeing Gaga herself in her character: a working-class girl beloved by outcasts with a voice as vast and mighty as the Pacific.