Bradley Cooper has forgone the trajectory of a debut filmmaker with his feature directorial debut, A Star Is Born, and instead of building up to a must-see sensation he’s come out of the gate strong with a story of dreams, love, and jealousy. This isn’t the first version of this particular story though. Three previous incarnations of the film showcased the talents of Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland, and Barbra Streisand as “the star,” and it’s a tricky role to cast because anything less than a true talent just won’t work. Cooper tapped superstar Lady Gaga in a role that’s formidable for an established actress let alone a performer who’s never appeared in a feature film before,and it’s the gamble that makes A Star Is Born shine. Cooper has changed little of what makes the story compelling some 60 plus years since its initial incarnation, and he succeeds with a film featuring characters that feel genuine and original songs from the diva herself. Another big reason it all works? Cooper himself has never been better.
Our introduction to Jackson Maine (Cooper) comes during a rock concert, and the voice lessons that Cooper took over a year and a half immediately show their value. The sound design makes you feel as if you’re at that concert listening to one of this generation’s icons. Maine isn’t only fueled by his love of rock music, of course, as he’s also powered by an addiction to drugs and alcohol. He teeters through concerts living only for the next opportunity to drink. It’s that next drink that leads him to Ally (Gaga), a waitress who sings at a local bar, and while she’s wearing heavy makeup and covering Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose,” she impresses him enough in the moment that he insists she come to his next gig. And just like that, A Star Is Born.
Ally has no aspirations of stardom,but she’s content paying the bills with her restaurant gig while finding her true happiness while belting out her favorite songs. She keeps her favorite vinyl record on her wall and lives with her father and his buddies. Her dad (Andrew Dice Clay) believes that some people just don’t have the luck needed to become famous despite also believing his daughter has the voice of an angel. When the opportunity comes to hitch her career to Maine she makes a tough decision. She knows he’s an alcoholic, but she puts her trust in him because he believes in her.
The film is loaded with scenes destined for memes and iconic reverence with the signature moment coming when Ally sings her original song, “Shallow.” Everything builds to that moment, and the payoff is huge. These two souls had a chance meeting, and here they are performing a song in front of thousands. It’s the kind of scene that sends chills through an audience,and it’s in the film’s first third, the journey to stardom, where A Star Is Born operates on all cylinders.
Jacksons father was an alcoholic and would often share drinks with his young children. If it wasn’t for Bobby (Sam Elliott with a fantastic performance as Jackson’s older brother), Jackson would be dead in a ditch somewhere. Jackson spurns his brother’s help and instead exists as a jealous, busted individual whose only light in life is hearing Ally sing. It’s a riveting performance by Cooper and makes for a career best.
Cooper’s directorial effort will get plenty of acclaim, but there are limitations to adapting a work with the familiarity of A Star Is Born. If you’ve seen a previous incarnation of the story, then there is no secret to the signature moments. Ally complains about her looks with a focus on her nose, Jackson says “I just wanted to take another look at you,” and plenty other scenes repeat from earlier attempts at the material. It’s one thing to craft an original piece of art and another to make subtle changes to how it flows. Cooper has made changes for the better, including some character growth that wasn’t as clear in the ’54 version of the story. He and his co-writers have also repeated the problems in the previous films, but the best stars are all a little flawed.
A Star Is Born has all the ingredients for a massive success. Cooper and Gaga showcase their acting and musical talents with effortless aptitude. A Star Is Born has that immeasurable power to draw an audience and take them along for a ride of dreams, romance, and show-stopping musical numbers. Considering how many iterations exist, there was concern that another dip into the source material would be unwise. That’s not the case here as, A Star Is Born will win you over.