It’s movie magic at its most beautiful when Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga share the screen in A Star Is Born. It’s a rousing remake of the old rise-to-fame story, and it’s easily the best movie with that title ever made. It is the fourth—yet this film feels amazingly original.
Cooper makes his directorial debut and stars as Jackson Maine, a Southern rocker barely getting through his gigs thanks to too much alcohol, too many pills and a nasty case of tinnitus. The film opens with Cooper live on stage belting out “Black Eyes,” a song that shows this movie means business on the musical front: Yes, that’s him singing and playing a pretty mean guitar. He brings a legitimate musical soul to the role.
And he’d damned well better, because his counterpart is played by none other than Lady Gaga in her fierce feature-lead debut. As Ally, a waitress who sings occasionally at the local drag bar, Gaga exceeds expectations so much that it seems impossible. She’s so good that it hurts, especially in the film’s heavy dramatic moments, of which there are many.
After his opening concert performance (filmed at Coachella in 2017), Jackson heads to Ally’s drag bar and, through an alcohol haze, witnesses her stirring version of “La Vie En Rose.” He’s instantly convinced he’s witnessing a diamond in the rough and implores her to join him on the road. She makes an impromptu appearance onstage with him performing “Shallow,” a song they wrote in a grocery-store parking lot together. She’s an instant smash, and the journey to fame and fortune has begun for Ally.
As this oft-told story goes, when one star rises, the other falls, and Cooper (who co-wrote the screenplay) stays faithful to that theme. While past incarnations have been a bit shmaltzy (Barbra Streisand’s 1970s take was pretty goofy), this take is gritty, intelligent, heartfelt and at times emotionally overwhelming. Gaga cries a bit in this movie, and you probably will, too.
Speaking of the Streisand version, Cooper’s film makes many obvious nods to it, including Jackson’s Kris Kristofferson look, an examination of Gaga’s big beautiful nose (just like Streisand’s) and even a moment including fake eyebrows. (There are prominent eyebrow-centric scenes in all of the versions.) Cooper acknowledges the prior films without stealing from them; fans of each version will appreciate what they see here.
Gaga reportedly campaigned for the music to be performed live, and this is a huge blessing, because nobody sings live like Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. What she does with “Shallow” and the film’s closing number, “I’ll Never Love Again,” is the stuff of movie legend. While this sort of musical magic is more or less expected from Gaga, to have Cooper successfully trading musical punches with one of the best singers on the planet is some sort of musical miracle.
Ally’s rise-to-fame story becomes a little predictable when her pop career takes off, but not enough to hurt the movie or diminish the film’s instant-classic status. The songs, many of them crafted by Gaga and Cooper together, are the real deal.
It was a lot of fun following this film’s production and reading about what inspired Cooper to make the movie and cast Gaga. It’s rare that a film lives up to the hype like this one has. Gaga is now a front-runner for an acting Oscar; Cooper finds himself in the running for directing; and “Shallow” seems predestined for a win as Best Original Song.
See this one knowing that the goosebumps will rise; the smiles will stretch your face muscles; and the tears will flow. A Star is Born is one of the year’s best movies, and Cooper and Gaga are one of the all-time-great screen pairings.
A Star Is Born is playing at theaters across the valley.