Actor and now screenwriter, song writer, and director Bradley Cooper undertakes the enormous project of remaking “A Star Is Born” for the third, or some may say the fourth, time. The 1932 George Cukor directed film, “What Price Hollywood?” is said to be the inspiration for the next 4 versions of “A Star Is Born” beginning with the 1937 film starring Janet Gaynor, the 1957 Judy Garland version, and then the most well-known 1976 adaptation starring Barbra Steisand and Kris Kristofferson. That brings us to the Cooper and Lady Gaga saga, that is sure to bring old and new audiences to this timeless tale of love, jealousy, and loss.
The premise of the film remains the same, but the situations and circumstances are all brought into today’s world, complete with the original music many of which are co-written by Gaga and Cooper. We meet super star singer Jackson Maine (Cooper) who has obvious chemical dependency issues. After a performance, he happens into a bar where waitress Ally (Gaga) is performing. Awe-struck by her talent, he falls in love with her, but Ally is hesitant. The story unfolds as the two begin a relationship not only in love, but in life and work. Jackson opens doors for Ally, leading her on a path of success as he watches his own shining star begin to fade…much of which is self-destructive behavior. This classic love story pits the heart against the soul, pulling no punches in the final outcome.
From the very first scene as Ally sings a song in French, the emotions evoked are far greater than I could have anticipated. As we watch Jackson’s reaction to her, we completely understand how he feels and we are at once connected to this rising talent matched with a legendary performer. Their chemistry is powerful as we want nothing more than the two to rise to the top of their careers together and live happily ever after…but that wouldn’t be a very good story, would it? The tears must fall and the heart must be broken and as we watch Jackson’s alcohol and drug addiction effect not only his work, but every relationship he has, the story captivates you, taking you on an emotional ride.
Gaga’s talent seems to have no limits as she easily transforms from mega-star musician to a leading lady in “A Star Is Born.” Coupling this with her extraordinary musical skills, writing songs and performing them, adds an unparalleled aspect to the film. Cooper is equally talented in his musical and singing performance, as he replicates Sam Elliott’s lyrically rich, low voice who plays Jackson’s older brother, Bobby. Elliott’s performance, while it isn’t a huge role, is an important one as his character is resentful of his little brother’s talent and success, and is conflicted with his responsibility to care for him. The subtlety in his actions and reactions are indelible, eliciting such a deep viewer response. Gaga, Cooper, and Elliott are simply stellar, giving far-reaching and emotional portrayals of how life, love, and family affects you to the core.
The supporting cast shines brightly, illuminating the production. Anthony Ramos plays Ramon, Ally’s best friend and confidant with care and humor. Dave Chappelle finds a new and different way to create his character, Noodles, with a sense of reality and Andrew Dice Clay tones it down as he portrays Ally’s father, Lorenzo, a limo driver who is trying his best to help his daughter step into the next part of her life. A surprisingly complex performance from Rafi Gavron as Rez, Ally’s manager, finds just the right tone in superficial caring and honest guidance in the work place. Gavron is so subtle, his words become shocking—a truly skillful performance.
The film takes us along the highs and the lows of life and love, never missing a beat or an opportunity to pull on your heartstrings. While the performances are always intriguing, the film does meander a bit in the middle, lacking focus for just a short period of time, but unfortunately, this pulled me out of the moment. Reeling me back in at the end proved more difficult than I anticipated as the film tried to find an ending. These are minor flaws in this enormous endeavor and they do not overshadow the remarkable and engaging performances and musical entertainment in the film.
Cooper’s directorial debut is a strong one, proving that he has what it takes to write, act, direct, and even sing, but even more important, he knows how to assemble the right cast of characters to create a beautiful story worth re-telling for the 4th (or 5th) time. And you’re going to get the soundtrack for this one!