A Star Is Born
Directed by Bradley Cooper. Screenplay by Eric Roth, Cooper, and Will Fetters. A Warner Bros. release playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, Levis Commons, Bowling Green, and Mall of Monroe. Rated R for language throughout, some sexuality and nudity, and substance abuse. Running time: 135 minutes.
Critic's rating: ★★★★½
Cast: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, and Sam Elliott
The timeless story of love and fear, success and failure, building up someone else and self-destruction, A Star is Born is also ageless.
The original was released in 1937 as a romantic drama about two actors starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, then remade in 1954 as a musical about two actors starring Judy Garland and James Mason, and in 1976 as a romantic drama about two singers — one pop, one folk — with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in the lead roles.
And now, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper have created the definitive version for those generations just old enough to have seen the 1976 version in theaters and just young enough not to know who Kris Kristofferson is.
Their 2018 version, in the same romantic-drama vein as the 1976 film, is a handsome film featuring standout performances (including Lady Gaga in her major film debut), memorable songs (including by Cooper, an actor who is convincing as a singer-songwriter), and polished directing (by Cooper, in his directorial debut).
As with all the versions of A Star is Born, the actors, clothes, and styles change from film to film, while the story remains the same, albeit with slight updates.
Jackson (Bradley Cooper) is a talented-but-troubled rock star on the other side of his career.
Ally (Lady Gaga) is a talented-but-unknown singer who is certain her unconventional looks have impeded success.
Trailer: A Star Is Born
He sells out arenas. She performs at a neighborhood gay bar on drag night.
Yet even before they meet, it's obvious that he will need her far more than she will need him.
It's not fate that brings them together, either, but Jackson's need to keep his buzz going after a concert. He gets his driver to drop him off at a random bar, which turns out to be that bar where Ally is performing.
Her voice gets his attention, and her looks pique his interest. He knows he’s found something, and with a lot of help, compliments, coaxing, and coaching he helps launch her career after they perform a duet onstage during one of his shows.
He will, of course, help her become a star. And she will do everything she can to help him stay a star. But as more and more of Jackson's messy life is revealed, particularly his addiction to booze and drugs, he will need Ally not just to keep his career going, but to help him survive.
The Cooper and Lady Gaga pairing is so perfect it’s easy to forget it carried risks.
She’s a Grammy-winning singer who has sold millions of records, but can she hold her own with an Oscar-nominated actor in the dramatic moments? And can Cooper sing and, at the very least, make a convincing rock star when onstage and when next to her?
The answer is mostly an affirmative. Lady Gaga, who has appeared in TV’s American Horror Story, plays what could be loosely described as a fictional version of herself, including self-deprecating comments about her nose. (In a recent interview, Lady Gaga said someone once suggested she get a nose job to help her career.) She lights up the screen when she sings and is effectively moving when Ally is struggling, with Jackson and her own career problems.
Cooper, carrying a drawl and a deep voice, is an amalgamation of rock stars and singer-songwriters, with a ragged guitar style that is mostly Neil Young.
And Cooper the director is smart enough to know when to show us Cooper the rock star in close-up, in front of a thousands in the audience, or cut to someone else onstage.
Cooper and Lady Gaga have great chemistry too, which makes us all the more invested in their relationship, as when Jackson ices Ally’s hand with a bag of frozen vegetables after she hits one of his drunk fans at a bar.
They are the stars, but others contribute to the film’s success.
An almost unrecognizable Andrew Dice Clay has a nice turn as Ally's father, Lorenzo, who is proud of his daughter, but still wonders if he could have done more to help her, and Dave Chappelle also has a small-but-funny role as a friend of Jackson's.
Sam Elliott, though, has some wonderful turns with Cooper, playing Jackson’s older brother Bobby, who helped raise him. Bobby and Cooper have different mothers, but share the same alcoholic father, and so Bobby had to step in and be a father figure to his younger brother. It’s a role that he has never been able to relinquish, especially as Jackson’s addiction issues have grown worse. Theirs is such deep history that it doesn’t have to be mentioned in the film to be felt, as when the brothers stare at each other in silence or lash out verbally.
Lady Gaga will deservedly get the headlines for her breakthrough role in A Star is Born, but it's Cooper's veteran skills as a first-time director that shouldn’t be overlooked.
A Star is Born defines Lady Gaga as a film actress, and Cooper as a filmmaker.
Contact Kirk Baird at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.
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