By Chic DiCiccio
When first announced, “A Star Is Born” had the words “vanity project” written all over it. Big movie star decides to star, write and direct himself in yet another remake of an American classic? Not only that, he’s going to write and perform all the original songs in it?
After approximately 15 seconds, Bradley Cooper should silence all doubters. It takes one live performance of “Black Eyes” and Cooper absolutely disappears into the role of country music star Jackson Maine.
Not only is the musicianship fully convincing, Cooper’s southern drawl only pales in comparison with Sam Elliott’s gravely pipes, who naturally shows up as Jackson’s manager and half-brother, Bobby.
If Jackson is lonely while sitting on top of the world, Ally Campana (Lady Gaga) is on the other end of the success spectrum. As Jackson is pushed into a limo after a performance in California, Ally is being ordered to take out restaurant trash before her shift is over. Her lack of success in getting singing gigs is evident when the only time she can get on stage to perform is at a Los Angeles drag bar.
Due to chance/alcoholism, Jackson stumbles into that very drag bar and watches Ally perform an absolutely knockout version of “La Vie en Rose.” Jackson, everyone in the bar, and everyone watching the movie should then do one thing and one thing only: fall in love with Ally Campana.
Ally and Jackson’s whirlwind love affair occupies the first hour or so of “A Star Is Born” and it is nothing short of irresistible. Ally naturally joins Jackson on tour and he encourages her to perform her own songs and the euphoria of it all probably causes her to ignore Jackson’s functional alcoholism.
The second chunk of “A Star Is Born” is not as good as the first and it quickly rushes Ally into bubblegum pop music superstardom.
She doesn’t leave Jackson, but her career quickly surpasses his while he battles several different types of bottles and a case of painful tinnitus. It also introduces Rez (Rafi Gavron), who fills the easily hatable role of Ally’s sleazy music producer and manager.
There are several dramatic themes present in “A Star Is Born” and the idea of art versus artist is interesting as it parallels the actual music career of Lady Gaga. Jackson is supportive of Ally, but he’s definitely not sold on her flip from singer/songwriter to orange-haired pop star with backup dancers. Ally only changes on the surface, which makes it tough to tell if Jackson just misses singing with the love of his life or if he’s battling full-fledged jealousy.
There are a few moments where director Cooper allows himself and Lady Gaga to be a bit self-indulgent and chew up the scenery, but they are both such flawed and lovable characters that you really shouldn’t mind. Lady Gaga and Cooper fall right into their roles and their love at first sight story works, which makes the rest of the film work.
It’s hard to believe that this is the same human that once wore a meat dress, but Lady Gaga is simply stunning. It’s up in the air whether she can actually “act,” but who cares? This role is tailor made for her and she manages to be electrifying and self-aware all at the same time.
After working with directors like Clint Eastwood and David O. Russell, perhaps it shouldn’t be too shocking that Cooper himself is amazing behind the camera. His version of “A Star Is Born” is only outshined by the original, and this story of love, heartbreak and music will no doubt continue to bring droves of people (and many packages of Kleenex) to the theater.