“A Star Is Born” Movie Review


     Marking the feature writing and directing debut of Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born” revisits the story told in three previous films of the same title produced in 1937, 1954, & 1976, while modernizing key plot elements to reflect today’s climate within the entertainment industry.  And while the story may seem a bit too simple for a film expected to be a major contender come awards season, the performances by both Cooper and Lady Gaga bring an undeniable chemistry and electricity to every scene.  This is easily the best performance of Cooper’s career, besting his turn in “Silver Linings Playbook”, and made all the more impressive given the fact he is also behind the camera as well.  For Lady Gaga, with her performance being no less impactful than Cooper’s, “A Star Is Born” may serve as her feature film coming out party, similar to the kind of music fueled turn by Eminem in 2002’s “8 Mile”.  Together, they provide one of the best on screen duos of the year.

     Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a longtime country rocker whose look and music still gets him recognized on the street in between gigs and during his various tour stops from city to city.  The screenplay by Cooper, Eric Roth, and Will Fetters carefully explores what’s underneath this gruff talking Marlboro man of a character, giving the audience a true look into who he is and what has led him to the events we are witnessing on screen.  These are crucial elements to reveal early on, given the fact they will come in to play many times later.  From the visual of the packed houses Jack regularly performs in front of, you wouldn’t exactly surmise he’s a has been, merely resting on past laurels, but early dialogue also indicates he may be at the end of his road in his own mind.

     Perhaps that’s why he looks to pass on what he has learned to someone of whom he sees immense talent and is just waiting for the opportunity to shine in front of a wider audience.  After performing one night, he directs his driver to stop at a local bar which he immediately realizes upon entry is a drag bar filled with patrons there to see that night’s on stage entertainment.  Enter Ally (Lady Gaga), who steps out and onto the small stage and wows everyone in attendance, including Jack who is brought to her dressing room in hopes of meeting her.  Of course, when someone of Jack’s status walks in, those in the room immediately gravitate to his fame, but that’s not why he’s there.  He sees something in Ally.  And he wants to learn more about her.

     As romance ensues, Jack invites Ally to his next concert, having a staff member bring her just off stage to take in the guitar heavy sounds of his music.  But at a moment’s notice, Jack asks her to perform a song they sang together on the night they met, which means Ally singing in front of a massive crowd for the first time.  She hesitates initially, but something in her mind tells her to walk out there, as if this is one of those opportunities which could define her future.  The scene, which takes place early in the film’s first act, is wonderfully cinematic, as we witness a true connection on stage between two people who share a passion for the performance of music.  Now it isn’t exactly surprising when Lady Gaga belts out the words to the song in a manner we are already accustomed to hearing from her, but that’s the small downside to casting an established pop star rather than an unknown.  

     Sparks inevitably fly between the couple, but there are also important aspects of mentorship that shouldn’t go unnoticed and provide the resounding theme to the story.  Early on, Jack explains his theory that everyone has talent, but not everyone has something to say which people will actually listen to.  Artists who once hit it big, certainly want to continue to have an audience who will listen, but maintaining that level of ability and creativity is never easy.  Jack turns to alcohol during these times when he’s not sure his career will persevere and ultimately be replaced in the psyche of his once adoring fans by someone else who provides the latest sound.  When Ally takes off as a solo act, you can feel the pain inside Jack as he begins to realize his time is in the past and his future as in artist is clouded.  He’s happy for Ally, but he isn’t ready to be considered something of the past just yet.  All that is left as he ponders an uncertain future is the bottle, which as we know can lead someone to any number of dark places.

     “A Star Is Born” gains much of its strength from the supporting players who provide much needed comic relief at times, but also heartfelt compassion as those who love Jack and Ally and are there both to cheer for them in the best of times and console them when the realities of the entertainment industry begin to tear them down inside.  Of particular note is Andrew Dice Clay’s turn as Ally’s father, as well as Sam Elliott’s Bobby, who as Jack’s older brother and stage manager maintains a rocky relationship with his younger sibling due to a past neither can agree on.  And while the film is certain to garner attention for the musical contributions of Lady Gaga, there is also plenty to like from Cooper’s debut behind the camera, as he demonstrates the necessary chops to bring this story to life with the vision of a veteran filmmaker.  The result is something that feels less like a major Hollywood production, and more like a character driven indie where the audience finds themselves looking directly into the souls of two people living through the kind of experiences most only dream of.  GRADE: A