Movie Review: A Star is Born

A Star Is Born is the fourth iteration of a love story between an aging entertainer battling alcoholism and a young up-and-coming star trying to make it big. While a third remake might seem like a Hollywood cash grab on the surface, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga deliver pitch-perfect performances with a script that adds depth and nuance to the movie’s tried and true archetypes.

The first remake, released in 1954, of the original 1937 film was turned into a musical starring Judy Garland. The second remake came in 1976, starring former flames Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. This time, their characters were turned into singers, with Streisand playing a chanteuse and Kristofferson a rocker addicted to harder substances. For the third remake, Cooper takes over for Kristofferson as Jackson Maine, a jaded rock star who can’t make it through a post-show car ride without polishing off a bottle of liquor. Desperate to further numb himself, he forces his driver (Greg Grunberg) to stop at the nearest bar, which happens to be a drag bar populated by real-life drag stars Shangela and Willam as well as aspiring singer Ally (Gaga). Transfixed by her performance of Edith Piaf’s La Vie En Rose, Maine invites Ally out first for a drink and then to his concert, where he badgers her into performing a song that she penned. Despite her own insecurities and Jackson’s obvious substance abuse problems, Ally knows this is her big chance, both at fame and at love, so she dives right in. Tragically, like in the three previous versions, as Ally’s star rises, Jackson’s begins to fall, further fueling his self-destruction and poisoning their relationship.

When rumors about this remake first made headlines in 2012, names like Beyoncé and Leonardo DiCaprio were floated around, but Cooper and Lady Gaga are the perfect fit. Gaga certainly has pipes on par with her predecessors, and a noticeable nose like Streisand, but more importantly, her own life story mirrors Ally’s journey. Despite being a soulful songwriter at heart, Ally finds success as a glittering, unitard-clad pop star, similar in nature to Gaga.

Cooper seems like a less obvious choice for the role of Jackson Maine, but the rom-com charmer put some serious work into his characterization. He learned to play guitar and piano and worked with a vocal coach to lower his voice by a whole octave to better suit his character. Cooper’s choice in that vein was wise as it changes not just how he sounds but how he holds his jaw and how he moves, and realistically depicts Jackson’s baggage and personality.

While his acting performance may be his best work, Cooper doesn’t quite hit all the right notes as a director. Some of the film’s time jumps are awkward and some climactic moments get truncated. In an effort to be subtle, Cooper’s editing doesn’t always allow a moment to sink in with audiences. Case and point: as Jackson’s older brother Bobby (Sam Elliot) tearfully peel out of Jackson’s driveway after a sudden heartfelt confession, the film promptly cut to the next scene, hamstringing the desired impact.

Conversely, the restraint of Cooper and his team works wonderfully in tight shots that let Gaga’s soulful green eyes or Cooper’s piercing baby blues do the talking. Cooper also has a knack for building up to Ally’s moments of triumph on stage, slowly amplifying the music along with her emotions until she satisfyingly sings out.

Elsewhere, though their main purpose is to forward the plot, the movie’s songs are definitely good enough to stand on their own, with Shallows being the standout. Cooper and Gaga penned much of the soundtrack themselves, alongside Lukas Nelson, son of Willie Nelson, who served as a music consultant. He and his band, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, also appear as Jackson’s backing band, and their camaraderie during the concert scenes feels very natural.

A Star Is Born wasn’t a movie that demanded to be remade again, but Cooper realized he had a new twist he could add and thoroughly devoted himself to portraying it properly as both an actor and a first-time director. He and Lady Gaga’s captivating commitment and chemistry combined with magnetic original music and an updated story to make for perhaps the best "A Star is Born" of the whole bunch.

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