Writer/director/star Bradley Cooper worked on this very dear-to-his-heart project for over three years to bring his version of this oft-told story back to the silver screen. Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a musical legend grappling with more than a few issues with a distinct panache. But it is Cooper's choice of Lady Gaga to play Ally that solidifies A STAR IS BORN (2018) in the annals of movie history.
Starting with the 1937 film of the same name starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, Cooper's production is the fourth major studio release. There was the 1954 one featuring Judy Garland and James Mason, then Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson's hit in 1976. So, if you don't already know the story, it's very simple --- unknown female singer meets male alcoholic superstar, he helps her in her career, they fall in love, he can't control his addiction and things go south.
What is rather unbelievable is that Dave Chappelle, who portrays George "Noodles" Stone, one of Jackson's friends from his early life, did not know the storyline before reading the screenplay. Doesn't matter, Chappelle's role, though short-lived, is pivotal and he is thoroughly convincing. It's not a comedic turn, but Chappelle is exceptional with the serious stuff.
Another outstanding performance belongs to Sam Elliott who plays Jackson's brother Bobby. Tasked with constantly caring for his alcohol-addicted baby brother before and after every concert, Bobby is paramount to Jack's survival --- until Ally comes along. Elliott, one of the outstanding actors of his generation, is ultimately mesmerizing whenever he's on screen. His performance is so powerful he may make the short list for Best Supporting Actor.
A STAR IS BORN definitely belongs to Cooper and Lady Gaga. They are stunning together --- their chemistry is breathtaking --- from the first time she lies down on a bar in front of him and looks into his eyes, while singing "La Vie En Rose", to their last scene together.
They both give the performances of a lifetime, especially when you consider that they did all of the singing live, not through taping or lip-syncing to a track. Both Cooper and Lady Gaga were insistent about that aspect of filming and it is so vitally important to the honesty of
A STAR IS BORN and its overall lasting impression.
One of my requisites for a memorable movie is the writing. A STAR IS BORN's script, written by Oscar-winner Eric Roth (FORREST GUMP), Will Fetters and Cooper, is beautifully crafted with a sincerity rarely seen in these types of films. This is truly a love story, accentuated with many original songs by Cooper and Lady Gaga and other artists, Lukas Nelson, Jason Isbell and Mark Ronson. Cooper and Lady Gaga perform these musical pieces with such a level of adoration and authenticity --- heartbreaking at times.
When it was first announced that Cooper was remaking this old standby, not much was expected or anticipated. How wrong those early naysayers were. He has produced a film worthy of the moniker A STAR IS BORN, both for him as first-time director and Lady Gaga for her first starring role. They are marvelous --- and a whole new generation will get to appreciate this classic tale.
Opinion: See It Now!
Bradley Cooper wrote, directed and stars in this deeply moving and compelling remake of A STAR IS BORN, the fourth such version of the iconic story. Cooper stars as fictional rock star Jackson Maine, and he is larger than life as he completely disappears into his character.
It isn't long before we realize we're not watching Cooper, the A-List actor. Instead we see a hard-drinking, drug-abusing, grunge-like musician who happens to be incredibly talented. Cooper worked five days a week for six months to perfect his singing, since his initial attempt left him breathless after a single verse. He also plays his own lead guitar like a pro.
Cooper's co-star is the fabulous Lady Gaga. She most certainly must be ranked among the greatest female vocalists of all time and her acting is just as competent. As frustrated singer and songwriter Ally, Gaga is instantly likeable and credible. Her character is elevated from a berated catering employee --- whose responsibilities include taking out the garbage --- to a world-class singer en route to three Grammy nominations and an appearance on Saturday Night Live.
The opening scenes where Ally meets Jack after she performs in a drag club are magical. The two have an instant attraction, and the audience immediately adopts the stance that (1) they make a great couple, and (2) we want them to be successful in both their personal and public lives.
Both Cooper and Gaga deliver Oscar-worthy performances in what may end up as a crowded field of candidates for both genders. The superb cinematography, headed by Matthew Libatique, places the viewer on stage with the band. We look out at the huge throngs of rock-and-roll fans from the same perspective as the musicians, thus getting a small sensation of what it's like to be a rock star. The filmmakers utilized authentic venues like the Coachella music festival in California (where Gaga was the headliner in 2017), as well as The Forum and Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.
Andrew Dice Clay, the former foul-mouthed stand-up comic from the 1980s, who has done primarily TV in recent years, plays Ally's father Lorenzo. Dice Clay is virtually unrecognizable from his former celebrity status, but he does an admirable job in his role as the dad who always thought his daughter should be a famous singer.
It has been over 40 years since the last A STAR IS BORN was released, starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Cooper's version may go down as the most popular, especially with clever touches geared to today's moviegoers, like the aforementioned SNL appearance by Ally after being introduced by the show's host, portrayed by Alec Baldwin as himself.
One of the movie's signature sequences occurs when Jackson Maine, performing solo, beckons to Ally, watching from the wings, to join him on stage to perform a song she had written. Ally initially is reluctant, but when she ultimately steps up to the mike, it is electric.
Veteran Sam Elliott is his always-reliable self playing Jack's brother Bobby. He doesn't have a lot of screen time, but when he and Cooper are together, sparks fly. And Elliott and Gaga are touching when they are filmed together at the film's conclusion. Comedian Dave Chappelle has a small but critical role as Jack's friend George "Noodles" Stone, and the movie is liberally sprinkled with minor performers, all solid, like those of the female impersonators in the drag club where Ally originally moonlighted as a chanteuse.
Rafi Gavron is a young British actor who stands out as Rez. He takes an unknown Ally under his management wing and develops her into a true star. He also has a pivotal, combative scene with Jack late in the movie which has dire repercussions in the story. And finally there is Anthony Ramos as Ally's good friend and co-worker, Ramon. It is Ramon who recognizes Jackson Maine outside the drag club and showers him with the adoration reserved for a rock icon. Thus it is Ramon who is instrumental in bringing Jack and Ally together. Here Cooper inserts small details, like Jack peeling off Ally's fake eyebrows, that somehow stay with the moviegoer long after the show is over.
At slightly over two hours, A STAR IS BORN doesn't waste a moment. Every scene is meaningful. There are even times when Jack would appear briefly onstage in front of a large crowd, and then the scene would be quickly edited to something else, leaving me, at least, wanting more of the music. All the songs in A STAR IS BORN are original compositions written by Cooper and Gaga, along with other artists.
Beautifully acted and intelligently written, A STAR IS BORN is an ambitious, even monumental achievement in filmmaking. We look forward to future directorial efforts from Mr. Cooper.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!