A story so nice they remade not once, not twice, but thrice. Bradley Cooper pulls triple duty as director, co-writer, and star of the latest version of the enduring story of A Star is Born. Keeping the story in the music industry, Cooper’s A Star is Born more closely resembles the 1976 version, but surpasses that particular one in quality. For the most part, Cooper’s updated A Star is Born sticks to the formula that has worked over the years, so anyone familiar with how this story knows how it all goes down. But that’s not a bad thing as A Star is Born has been retold so many times because it’s a great story, and this updated version is surefire hit with its iconic pop star in the lead and a whirlwind romance undone by fame and addiction.
Lady Gaga steps into the role played by Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland, and Barbra Streisand as Cooper plays the role previously occupied by Fredrick March, James Mason, and Kris Kristofferson. Cooper is Jackson Maine, a rockstar with a serious drinking problem. Lady Gaga is Ally, a singer waiting for a big break but still performs at local drag bars. When Jackson finds himself catching Ally’s performance of “La Vie en Rose” he’s instantly enamored. Soon they’re romantically involved and Jackson pushes Ally towards performing in front of his sold out crowds. Their duet of “Shallows,” a song written by Ally, pushes her towards stardom and eventually into the orbit of super pop manager Rez (Rafi Gavron). As Ally’s star goes on a meteoric rise, Jackson’s stardom dwindles as his addictions often get the better of him, often drinking to cope with the jealousy of Ally’s increasing success.
While it’s Cooper that is pulling off the multi-hyphenate in A Star is Born, he’s smart enough to realize that this is Lady Gaga’s movie all the way and she runs away with it. I must admit that although I’ve admired her ability to be a weird popstar, you couldn’t really say that I’m a Lady Gaga fan. That being said, I’m a big fan of her in this movie. She gives a phenomenal performance, one that shows so many sides of a great performer. Lady Gaga tackles every single emotion in her powerhouse performance, making the audience laugh, cry, and feel every ounce of her jubilation as she breaks through from shy would-be performer to superstar. There’s real chemistry between her and Cooper’s rugged and boozy Jackson Maine. Anyone who has seen the previous versions of A Star is Born know the outcome to this romance, and the screenplay by Cooper, Eric Roth, and Will Fetters sticks to the outline while inserting plenty of little changes to keep those who’ve seen every version still on their toes.
Some of the notable changes to this version of A Star is Born include Sam Elliott as Jackson Maine’s older brother and tour manager Bobby. He’s more or less taking the role of the longtime movie producer from the ’37 and ’54 versions of the story, one who stands beside the hopeless addict for a long time before a break is inevitable. The relationship between Bobby and Jackson is mostly contentious as the rockstar squanders his opportunities, but it culminates in one of the most affecting scenes in the movie, one that is anchored by the wordless emotion displayed the veteran Elliott. Another new wrinkle added to this is afflicting Jackson Maine with tinnitus, a hearing condition that is perpetual ringing in his ears. It adds another reason for Jackson’s despair and diving deeper into his drinking and drug abuse.
As a director, Bradley Cooper isn’t too flashy and really gives his actors room to perform without having stylistic choices impede their performances. Cooper and cinematographer Matthew Libatique compose brilliant, perfectly centered shots at times and at others let the camera whirl around the characters in long shots that illustrate simultaneously the musical talent and romantic connection.
A Star is Born is a surefire hit. It takes a story that has endured for over 80 years and revives its with verve and soul. Bradley Cooper makes a strong directorial debut but it’s Lady Gaga who steals the show in every conceivable facet. This isn’t the greatest version of A Star is Born (that’s George Cukor’s 1954 version with Judy Garland) but it’s one that hits all the right notes, twisting the twelve notes in a way that honors the past but pushes the story to the present. Lady Gaga was already a star but with A Star is Born she enters a new level of stardom, and I can’t wait to see where she goes next.
A Star Is Born
A modern update of a classic story, A Star is Born works because of the deft direction of Bradley Cooper, who also stars and co-writes, but it’s Lady Gaga’s movie with a revelatory performance highlighting her immense musical abilities and incredible acting prowess.