Film Review: A STAR IS BORN (directed by Bradley Cooper)

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by Joan Alperin on October 2, 2018

in Film

BRADLEY COOPER — A STAR REBORN

The first A Star Is Born (1937) tells of aspiring actress Esther Blodgett (played by Janet Gaynor) who impresses an alcoholic matinee idol Norman Maine (Fredric March). Esther gets her first big break in Norman’s next picture (and a marriage proposal from the smitten Mr. Maine). The movie’s a hit, but as Esther (now named Vicki) becomes a star, Norman’s popularity plummets due to a string of lousy pictures and an ongoing alcohol problem. The 1954 musical remake starred Judy Garland as a singer and James Mason as the former movie star. Then came the 1976 dud version starring Barbra Streisand (who won an Oscar with Paul Williams for the song “Evergreen”) as an unknown pop singer and Kris Kristofferson as an established rock star.

Now this Hollywood mythological backstage drama arrives in a redux that bests all previous versions (my favorite up ‘til now was Garland’s). Bradley Cooper not only appears in the picture – completely disappearing into his role as an aging, drug-addicted country/rock superstar, thereby stealing the film – but he co-wrote the screenplay (with Eric Roth and Will Fetters), co-wrote some songs, and makes his directorial debut.

With the help of dialect coach Tim Monich, vocal coach Roger Love, and guitar coach Lukas Nelson (Willie’s son, who collaborated on the soundtrack with Cooper and co-star Lady Gaga, who plays struggling singer/songwriter Ally), Cooper’s raspy, gravelly voice is remarkable. It mimics that of Sam Elliot as Jackson’s brother, Bobby, who gave up his own aspirations of being a star to help Jackson, who admits to Bobby that he stole his voice. Because Cooper captures all of his character’s complexities, and sings as well as a professional rocker, and plays a killer guitar, it’s tough to avert your attention from him, even though Gaga is an amazingly powerful singer and respectable actress.

We know from the start that Jackson Maine is a dope fiend: just before going on stage, he swallows some pills and chases them down with alcohol. Despite his inebriated state, his manic connection to the crowd is palpable, and his performance is amazing. After the show, he winds up in a gay bar where he spots Ally – the only female performer among the drag queens — performing Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en rose.” Impressed, Jackson winds up backstage, flustering Ally. It is in the early scenes before Ally becomes a star that Gaga shines, displaying a lovely vulnerability and wonderment.

The two definitely have chemistry and as the night goes on, she opens up to him while the extremely guarded Jackson follows suit. Their meet-cute, which lasts until dawn, is captured with beautiful intimacy, and it’s one of the most charming aspects of the film, especially when they improvise a song together (“Out of Time”). Jackson convinces her that her talent is special, and soon Ally is touring with him; when he sits her down at the piano in front of a crowd of tens of thousands, she performs one of her songs and … a star is born. The tunes (also written by DJ White Shadow, Jason Isbell, Mark Ronson, Diane Warren, and Andrew Wyatt) are astoundingly poignant, and when Gaga and Bradley perform together, it’s pure magic. You want these two to make it as a couple.

Unfortunately, Jackson is a damaged character and no matter how much Ally tries to save him, he keeps falling back to his old ways. The doomed love story will stay with you long after the movie ends.

The much-needed backstory for Maine missing in the previous three Star pictures is filled in here with the addition of terrific supporting characters: Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay), Ally’s super loving and supportive dad; Noodles (Dave Chappelle), Jackson’s friend who represents to him another path he could have taken; and Rez (Rafi Gavron), Ally’s producer who has his own ideas on how to make her a star.

This essential Hollywood cautionary tale could easily have turned into soapy melodrama, but thanks to Cooper’s down-to-earth filmmaking, this A Star Is Born ascends into the cinema firmament. Don’t miss it.

stills courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

A Star Is Born
Warner Bros. Pictures
U.S.A. | 135 minutes
in wide release October 5, 2018

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris Cavallo October 6, 2018 at 12:01 pm

Wow. Based on this review, we rushed to the theater last night. Just to let you know we agree wholeheartedly. Thanks for the review.

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Marilyn Greig October 11, 2018 at 7:50 pm

Where can I buy the poster of Bradley and Gaga at the top?

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Tony October 11, 2018 at 10:54 pm

Try Amazon, Marilyn.

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