A STAR IS BORN (Dir. Bradley Cooper, 2018)
Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut is the third remake of the 1937 classic, A STAR IS BORN, but you don’t have to have seen that, or the 1954 or 1976 versions to recognize the premise: a tragic romance in which one star rises while the other one fades.
Cooper, who also co-produced, co-wrote the screenplay, and co-wrote some of the songs, plays Jackson Maine, a country rock star who we first meet shredding his guitar in front of thousands of cheering fans. Well, actually the first shot is of him taking pills and downing some liquor backstage before that moment, but I digress.
We follow the drunk Jackson after the show as he gets his driver (Greg Grunberg) to take him somewhere, anywhere that serves alcohol only to find himself at a drag bar being serenaded by Lady Gaga as Ally, the one woman they let perform at the place because, well, she’s Lady Gaga.
Jackson is immediately smitten with Ally, and so is Cooper’s cinematographer, Matthew Libatique (PI, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, BLACK SWAN) who gives Gaga gorgeous close-ups throughout the film. Jackson and Ally hit it off and have a wonderfully rambling evening together in which she punches a fan for being pushy, and they end up in a grocery store parking lot with her hand wrapped up in a frozen pea bag with tape – Jackson’s concoction, of course.
In a sweet moment, Ally improvises some lines to a new song and before you know it the movie has its big signature anthem “Shallow,” which he gets her to shake off her stage fright and perform with him at his show the next night. It’s a glorious scene that trailers and T.V. spots have been right to milk.
You know how it goes from there – Ally’s star is on the ascent with a new album, image, and tour, while Jackson goes deeper down into the bottle. But as predictable as that sounds, it plays out beautifully here with every scene having thoughtful weight.
The strong supporting cast well play their needed notes too – Andrew Dice Clay proves that his performance in BLUE JASMINE was no fluke with a great turn as Ally’s limo driver/ex-crooner father , the always reliable Sam Elliot gives great gravitas as Jackson’s brother/manager, Dave Chappelle pops up to help Jackson and Ally get married while making some patently laid-back wisecracks, and the lesser known Ravi Gavron puts in a sharp appearance as Ally’s ambitious agent.
Adding greatly to the portrait of this couple’s relationship is how the film values the song-writing connection that Jackson and Ally have together. How they bond over words scribbled on notebook pages that become crowd-pleasing ballads is one of many factors that had me tear up at times.
This helps make the film’s soundtrack – a rich mixture of country and pop songs – a seriously stellar collection. Through the concert scenes, some of which were filmed at Coachella, the song performances really sold me on these characters feeling like real people caught up in the spotlight. In that vein, Gaga owns her first leading role by coming across more like a real person than any time I’ve seen her before. She is bound to get award season action a-plenty for her stunning work here.
Cooper will surely get some attention too for his touching take on the star on the way down. Jackson has a lot of charisma despite his sloppy drunkenness, and mean moments of jealousy towards Ally, and Cooper is equally skilled in bringing out both his charms and flaws.
A STAR IS BORN is one of the best remakes ever, and one of the best films of the year. It’s a joyous, romantic, funny, tragic, uplifting, poignant, heart-string-pulling, beautiful, and, what I said up-front, emotionally powerful piece of pure entertainment.