First it was Gaynor and March (1937). Next it was Garland and Mason (1954). Then it was Streisand and Kristofferson (1976). Now, we have Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in the latest version of A Star is Born.
There’s no avoiding the buzz surrounding A Star is Born. Take a likeable Hollywood star like Bradley Cooper and pair him with an international pop star like Lady Gaga, and your movie is sure to create some high expectations. A Star is Born is a classic rise-and-fall story made for a whole new generation; it’s a melodrama drowned in music and big and bold in its presentation. When you see a remake of a story that’s been told on more than a couple of occasions, you’re sure to have some reservations. You’re sure to expect the clichés and get an idea of how things play out from a mile away. While that may be the case for this version of A Star is Born, what Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga do here is flat-out remarkable; their authenticity and commitment to the two main roles sell audiences on this oft-told story, which plays out like a new rendition of a classic song cranked on a jukebox to the max.
Seasoned musician Jackson Maine discovers — and falls in love with — struggling artist Ally. She has just about given up on her dream to make it big as a singer until Jackson coaxes her into the spotlight. But even as Ally’s career takes off, the personal side of their relationship is breaking down, as Jackson fights an ongoing battle with his own internal demons.
It would be quite an understatement to describe the first 45 minutes of A Star is Born as near-perfect movie magic. Our introductions to the two main characters, Jackson and Ally, show two separate people on two different paths; one is dealing with stardom while the other is dealing with trash (literally). Once they meet for the first time, it creates an instant spark. The spark ignites energy, and emotion builds up and spills onto the stage once Ally performs for the first time. The song (and moment) is a knockout, and its overwhelming presence makes it feel like a near-lock for Best Original Song at next year’s Oscars. It’s that good. From there, the tempo remains the same, and the original music is still as good as it gets. While the story never really stumbles or lags, it it’s difficult to reach, much less top, the level of the movie’s first act.
But even as we are able to anticipate what may happen as the movie goes on, the chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga is flawless. It’s raw and authentic enough to the point that it feels almost improv-like. Audiences will be hard-pressed not to get attached to either character or relate to one of them in some sort of fashion. Cooper is terrific as Jackson Maine, the famed musician whose life is spinning out of control thanks to his alcohol addiction. But the real star here, like the movie’s title, is Lady Gaga, who is radiant as the struggling artist, Ally. As if it weren’t evident enough in the previous small roles she’s played on screen, Lady Gaga puts her stamp on this production and shows the world what a gifted, multi-talented star she is. While her stage scenes are marvelous to behold, it’s her smaller scenes off that stage that truly demonstrate her acting skills.
Fans may not be surprised to see either Bradley Cooper or Lady Gaga (or both?) come away with Oscars next year for their performances, Sam Elliot’s small role as Jackson Maine’s brother and manager is equally good. Even though Elliot has, at most, around 20 minutes of screen time, every time we see him, it causes a whirlwind of emotions. And those whirlwinds just might be enough to propel Elliot to an Oscar nomination and win in the Best Supporting Actor category as well. It’s also worth mentioning Andrew Dice Clay’s performance as Ally’s father and luxury limo driver. It’s good to see him in something this good to show he’s still around. While the cast is great and the music, which is all original, is sure to make the soundtrack one of the year’s best-selling albums, the most impressive thing about A Star is Born might be that this is Bradley Cooper’s first move as a director. Showing great poise and direction that overshadow any of the movie’s “cliché” moments, Cooper tells this story with overpowering results, even if we know when and how the tune eventually will play out. After the movie’s release, there’s no question that Cooper can make whatever he wants from here on out.
Walking out of the theater, it felt as if this year’s Oscar season began with A Star is Born; and it also feels like Oscar season might end with A Star is Born. From the performances, to the music, to the direction, A Star is Born will win you over, even if you are a fan of any, or all, of the three previous versions of this classic story.