Bradley Cooper is transcendent in his feature film directorial debut. A Star Is Born is the fourth iteration of the classic musical. It takes a lot of confidence to remake a film where Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand loftily tread. Cooper updates A Star Is Born on the wings of a luminous talent. Pop diva Lady Gaga is electric on screen. The virtues that made her a household name are brilliantly stoked to elicit a mesmerising performance. The film does move too rapidly at times. Glossing over detail to keep its palpable energy flowing. That said, A Star Is Born's brisk approach will have your feet tapping and heart swooning.
Bradley Cooper stars as Jackson Maine, a drug and booze addled rock star. One fateful night after a concert, he runs out of liquor in his car. His driver drops him at the nearest bar, which is hosting a drag queen review. The cross dressing denizens are stunned to have a celebrity in their midst. But it's the girl on stage singing that wakes Jackson from his stupor.
Lady Gaga co-stars as Ally, a singer/songwriter toiling away her days as a banquet hall server. At nights, she sheds her inhibitions and reveals her true self on stage. Jackson is smitten by her talent, down to earth personality, and street-wise toughness. But Ally is crippled by low self esteem. Sure she may be able to hold a tune, but her nose is too big. Their romance burgeons into a resonant collaboration. Ally overcomes her fears en route to meteoric stardom. Jackson is supportive at every step, but his long held demons come to haunt them both.
A Star Is Born has the lead characters simmering in their roles. Cooper's portrayal of Jackson Maine is spot on. He's an incredible musician; whose only interest is the soul of his craft. Maine has money, fame, all the trappings of celebrity. None of that matters to him anymore, just the purity of music. His relationship with Ally rekindles a flame in his spirit. Their connection is beautiful, entirely believable. It's the bedrock of this film and enthralling to see.
Lady Gaga is a wonder to behold. Her performance is akin to a flower that blooms in real time. Her early scenes with Bradley Cooper are just great. She's stupefied that he's interested in her. Ally is no groupie or easy get. She's a hardscrabble gal, who's softened by Jackson's genuine interest. His trust in her ability allows Ally to blossom. This transformation is perfectly captured by Lady Gaga. She's my first serious contender for the Best Actress Oscar.
The soundtrack for A Star Is Born is fantastic. Every musical number moves the film forward with sonic gusto. This is instrumental to the film's success, especially when it will be compared to the previous versions. I saw the Barba Streisand and Kris Kristofferson 1976 film in my teens. Honestly, I found it unremarkable. Age may be at play here, but Cooper's take struck an entirely different chord. The music is damn good. The soundtrack might surpass the film's success.
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga will get the lion's share of accolades, but the wealth deserves to be spread further. Sam Elliott and Andrew Dice Clay are exceptional in supporting roles. Elliott plays Jackson Maine's older brother, who forged his career and picks up the drunken pieces. Clay, the infamous "Dice", is unrecognizable. He's both serious and comical as Ally's well-meaning father. Behind the camera, Matthew Libatique's (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) cinematography sets the rocking mood. He skillfully uses flare to create a near surreal atmosphere. It encapsulates Ally's feelings as she's swept up in Jackson's world.
A Star Is Born has an outstanding first act, that's somewhat lost as the story revs up. Ally's rise to fame and fortune is meant to be whirlwind, but the film needed to dig a bit deeper at points. Ally's first time on stage with Jackson morphs into a blur as they go on tour. The intimacy established in the beginning is never regained. This is also the case with Jackson and his brother's relationship. Sam Elliott and Bradley Cooper have several explosive scenes. There needed to be more build-up. The film runs a sleek pace at two hours and fifteen minutes. Bradley Cooper could have added another ten minutes of drama and not lost a beat.
A Star Is Born will enchant audiences. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga have tremendous screen chemistry. They sell the romance and music. It needed to be more granular, but Cooper comes out swinging as a director. Warner Bros. has a film destined for the awards circuit.