Somewhere at my mom's house in South Dakota there's a video cassette featuring a copy of the 1976 version of “A Star is Born” recorded from HBO at some point in the '80s.
I don't know if that cassette still works, and I don't remember what the two other movies on it are, but I really hope it doesn't work anymore … I hated that movie.
So imagine my excitement when I heard that the Gaynor/March original (1937), the Garland/Mason remake (1954), and the Streisand/Kristofferson abomination (1976) weren't enough and the story would be told on the big screen for the fourth time.
Bradley Cooper as Jack and Lady Gaga as Ally in the drama “A Star is Born,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, in association with Live Nation Productions and Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo by Neal Preston © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. AND METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER PICTURES INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)
Even as the buzz around Bradley Cooper's acting, writing and directing and Lady Gaga's performance began to swirl, I remained guarded – I had questions.
Is the story good enough to be told again? Does Cooper have any writing and directing ability? Can Gaga do anything beyond make music that hurts my ears and successfully play an “American Horror Story” weirdo? Sam Elliott is actually in this?
The answer to those questions are: maybe, but four times might be a bit excessive; yes he does; yes she can; and yes he is because he's Sam Elliott and he can do as he pleases.
Cooper stars as Jackson Maine, a talented, but aging and troubled rock star. Following a gig, Maine finds himself stuck in a car and out of booze. Making an unexpected stop at a club that wouldn't appear to be his scene, Jackson happens upon Ally (Gaga), a talented and charismatic performer in her own right.
The pair hits it off immediately and spends a night on the town developing professional and romantic relationships along the way.
Things get rocky, however, as Jackson's troubles worsen and Ally's success surpasses Jackson's after her career takes a detour from a Janis Joplin-like rock star to a, well, Gaga-like pop star.
In order to keep their relationship (both personal and professional) on track, the couple must learn to put their egos and issues aside. The question is whether they're both able to do so.
Lady Gaga as Ally and Bradley Cooper as Jack in the drama "A STAR IS BORN," from Warner Bros. Pictures, in association with Live Nation Productions and Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo by Neal Preston © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. AND METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER PICTURES INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)
The first thing that jumped out to me were the individual performances here.
Cooper, whose acting ability isn't in question with multiple Oscar nominations, is at times unrecognizable as the grizzled rock vet – in a very good way. I never once looked at the screen and thought “Brad grew his hair out and picked up a guitar.” I saw Jackson Maine. I saw a very genuine, but very troubled man. You saw his issues and you felt them.
The same can be said for Gaga, who brings every one of Ally’s multiple layers to life. She’s the timid, grounded muse for Jackson, but she’s also the ultra-talented, over-the-top performer. She’s strong and brash, but also vulnerable and caring. You see hints of all of those virtually every time Gaga is on screen. As much as I liked her in “AHS,” I truly didn’t see this level as possible – a pleasant surprise. I’m still not a fan of Gaga the musician, but I am definitely a fan of Gaga the actor.
Actors moonlighting as musicians and musicians moonlighting as actors … who knew it could actually work?
You also have an incredible performance by Elliott as Jackson's older brother/wrangler, Bobby, and surprisingly good turns by Dave Chapelle as Jackson's friend, Noodles, and Andrew Dice Clay (no, really) as Ally's father, Lorenzo.
Bradley Cooper as Jack and Sam Elliott as Bobby in the drama “A Star is Born,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, in association with Live Nation Productions and Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. AND METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER PICTURES INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)
Truth be told, my biggest complaint about the movie is that the supporting players are so strong that I'd like to see them get more screen time.
With a movie that's so music heavy, it will obviously command a lot of attention. Initially, I was blown away, particularly by the Gaga-Cooper duet “Shallow.” But as I've stepped back and listened more, I’m wondering if it might be more earworm than musical brilliance. That's not a knock – Gaga's vocals are superb, Cooper's are surprisingly adept, and the mark of good pop songs is that they're catchy and at least somewhat memorable – this soundtrack checks those boxes.
As noted above, there's some question as to whether this is a story that needs to be told as frequently as it has. It probably doesn't warrant it, but Cooper and co-writers Eric Roth and Will Fetters did a good job of giving it a fresh spin, and then putting it in the hands of the talent.
Get ready for a ton of much deserved Oscar buzz (in probably at least 7 categories) starting in 5, 4, 3 ...
★★★★ ½ of ★★★★★