“A Star Is Born” is an old story. So old, in fact, it was first told in 1937 and then again three more times.
The reason this story stays evergreen is that the glories and horrors of fame and fortune continue to play out in places like Hollywood, Nashville and New York City again and again and again.
The 2018 version of “A Star Is Born” is notable because it contains some impressive “firsts” for two of our galaxy’s brightest performers. Popstar Lady Gaga is outstanding in her first turn onscreen as a leading lady, while her co-star Bradley Cooper shows off his chops behind the camera in his directorial debut.
So, if this saga of love, loss, and fame has slipped past you in the last 80 years, allow me to get you up to speed.
Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a gritty, soulful rocker whose career is on the backside of a high peak. Even though he is sweet and often unassuming, Jackson has his demons — most prominently his raging alcoholism.
After one gig and in desperate need of a drink, Jackson drops into the first bar he can find. It is there where he meets Ally (Lady Gaga), a frustrated singer/songwriter who is ready to cash out on her dream, outside of an occasional performance as the only female singer in a drag show.
Ally catches Jackson’s eye, but it’s her talent that captures his heart. The two begin a whirlwind courtship that includes Jackson bringing Ally on stage where she shines under the bright lights in front of huge crowds.
It is at this point Ally’s career as a solo artist begins to take off, just as Jackson’s drinking gets worse and worse to the point it threatens to derail both of their careers and their relationship.
While “A Star Is Born” has more than its share of rough and raw moments, it is at its heart a love story and the chemistry between Gaga and Cooper is undeniable.
When stripped of the artifice of her pop persona, Gaga is able to bring a blue-collar edge to her performance as Ally. She certainly has the chops to command the screen and seeing her nab some award nominations for this role would be no surprise.
As convincing as Gaga is as an actress, Cooper is almost equally convincing as a musician, singing respectably in a gravely, earthy voice that sounds like he is impersonating Sam Elliott. This turned out to be intentional as Cooper cast Elliott as Jackson’s older brother and road manager.
Cooper brought in an excellent supporting cast for this movie, including notable turns by Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s father and Dave Chappelle as one of Jackson’s childhood friends.
“A Star Is Born” is at its best when Cooper and Gaga share the screen, particularly when they are onstage. Cooper does an excellent job of putting the audience on stage with the performers and gives us all a tiny taste of what a thrill it must be to be a rock star. And the songs aren’t half bad either.
Cooper is very intimate with his camera work, featuring a lot of close-ups and lingering on Gaga’s face in the moments where Jackson is the most enamored with her.
“A Star Is Born” can’t be accused of breaking new ground, but it does show the value of taking a familiar story and doing it very, very well. Don’t be surprised if this movie lingers into awards season and maybe even walks away with a trophy or two.
“A Star Is Born” is rated R for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity, and substance abuse.