It’s obvious that Hollywood doesn’t know how to quit A Star Is Born. Through three previous big-screen incarnations, kicking off with What Price Hollywood in 1932, the basic through line, most indelibly scripted by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson, remains untouched. A major star and addict on the slide romances and grooms for stardom a raw, ferociously talented newcomer. The higher the newbie soars, and the more frantically she tries to break her lover-mentor’s fall, the faster he crashes and burns.
A Star Is Born is the kind of Hollywood movie we seldom see anymore. It looks like a zillion dollars, thanks to cinematographer Matthew Libatique (Mother!), and exceptionally well-directed—big yet intimate, it feels both personal and universal, charms and seduces us before reducing an audience to tears. It’s got “awards” and “crowd-pleaser” written all over it.
Cooper, in a career-best performance, plays Jackson Maine, a gravelly voiced, charismatic rock legend with a troubled past, serious hearing problems and a taste for booze and self-destruction. Stumbling into karaoke night at a drag-queen bar, he is wowed by Lady Gaga’s insecure, self-effacing Ally as she belts out one hell of an Edith Piaf-style version of “La Vie en Rose.” (Her French pronunciation may be iffy, but she ignites the movie every single time she warbles).
What sets apart this A Star Is Born from its predecessors is its grittiness and funkiness. Sometimes, that works. Cooper and Gaga’s scenes together ripple with an improvisational, leave-in-the-goofs authenticity. Likewise, Cooper’s moments with his older brother, a failed but talented singer-songwriter who now manages Jackson, played (brilliantly) by Sam Elliott, are searing. Gaga’s home life with her chauffeur father (nice work by Andrew Dice Clay)—a would-be crooner like Frank Sinatra—rings true, as does Cooper’s side trip to the home of a childhood friend and happily retired former performer (nice work by Dave Chappelle). But mostly, the characters say “fuck” as often as if they were in a Scorsese movie.
What sets apart this A Star Is Born from its predecessors is its grittiness and funkiness.
The songs, written by Gaga, Cooper, Jason Aldean, Lukas Nelson and Mark Ronson, land beautifully on first hearing, and the soundtrack should hit big. And when Gaga and Cooper face a massive stadium audience to duet on a song called “Shallow,” the movie becomes electrifying and spins into the stratospheres. It’s a moment for the ages. Mark A Star Is Born as the film that crowns Lady Gaga as a powerful and winning screen presence, and Bradley Cooper as a first-rate director and born-again movie star.
A Star Is Born
- Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga give career-defining performances in this moving stunner with toe-tappers aplenty
- It gets tough to keep up that momentum in the later going