Review: A Star is Born

Directed by: Bradley Cooper
Written by: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, Anthony Ramos
Released: October 18, 2018
Grade: A-

A Star is Born
A remake of a 1937 film starring a woman with limited acting experience and a director who has never made a movie before?  Nope, I’m not talking about a 5-minute short film from a first-year college student.  This is the latest big-budget release from Warner Bros. Pictures.  Of course, I’m being mischievous with that simple overview and there are many reasons why this terrific project, which has started well at the U.S. box-office, is in line for multiple Oscar nominations.

A Star is Born is a proven story with audience appeal.  You’d think it was written by William Shakespeare given the desire by studios to retell it again and again.  The 1937 original starred Janet Gaynor and Fredric March and that was followed by the 1954 remake with Judy Garland and James Mason and then the troubled 1976 version with Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.  Bollywood even gave it a crack in 2013 with an Indian adaptation starring Aditya Roy Kapur and Shraddha Kapoor.

Bradley Cooper, in addition to his lead performance, pulls on the reins as the film’s director and while this marks his debut, he’s hardly an unknown quantity.  He’s a three-time Academy Award nominated actor who has worked under the guidance of directors including Clint Eastwood, David O. Russell, Cameron Crowe and Susanne Bier.  He’s also familiar with the subject matter.  Cooper has previously discussed his addiction to drugs and painkillers during his 20s and how it almost destroyed his promising career.

The casting of a renowned pop star as co-lead may sound like a “cash grab” to lure her millions of music fans but again, you can push those cynical thoughts to the side once you’ve seen her outstanding performance.  Lady Gaga has created a delicate, likeable character who serves as the film’s emotional barometer in that as her feelings change, so too will those of the audience.  Her work also goes far beyond what’s seen on screen as she co-wrote most of the original songs.  It’s her film as much as it is Cooper’s.

In terms of the narrative, Cooper steps into the shoes of Jackson Maine.  In the opening scene of the movie, we see him do two things – sing in front of thousands of adoring fans at a concert and then drink hard liquor in the back of a limousine.  That pretty much sums him up.  He’s a successful singer-songwriter but his love for alcohol threatens to permanently derail his career and destroy his relationship with friends and colleagues.  It’s a story that’s been seen countless times in real life within the music industry.

It’s through a chance encounter in a bar that Jackson meets Ally (Gaga), a struggling singer who is yet to catch her “big break” and who lacks the courage to perform her own songs.  I’m not sure which carries more weight but it’s clear that he is attracted to both her beauty and her talent.  He also enjoys her frank nature and the way in which she doesn’t fawn over his celebrity status.  Within a matter of days, the pair have become inseparable with Jackson dragging Ally up on stage to introduce her to the world and showcase her amazing voice.

The first half of A Star is Born is jaw-droppingly good as we watch Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga interact and write songs together (highlighted by a scene outside a convenience store).  It’s not a musical but the song lyrics still serve a valuable purpose as they allow the characters to express their feelings.  The second half isn’t quite as strong.  Ally has valid problems of her own (e.g. a manager trying to change her style) but these are pushed into the background as the film focuses more on Jackson and his increasing issues with alcohol.

Great performances mixed with great music.  A Star is Born is a must-see!