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 warhorse rise-to-fame story, and it’s easily the best movie with that title ever made. Considering it’s the fourth, it’s amazing how original the film feels.
Cooper makes his feature 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 clearly states this movie means business on the musical front. Yes, that’s him singing live—none of that lip-synching bullshit here—and playing a pretty mean guitar. He brings a lot of legitimate musical soul to the role.
And he damned well better, because his counterpart in this story is played by none other than Lady Gaga in her fierce feature lead debut. (She had bit parts in Sin City and Muppet movies.) As Ally, a waitress who sings occasionally at the local drag bar, Gaga delivers so well beyond expectations it seems impossible. She’s so good it hurts, especially in the film’s 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 on stage with him performing “Shallow,” a song they wrote in a grocery store parking lot together. She’s an instant smash, and the road to fame and fortune has begun for Ally.
As this oft-told story goes, when the one star rises, the other falls, and Cooper (who co-wrote the screenplay) stays faithful to that theme. But while past incarnations have been a bit shmaltzy—Streisand’s ‘70s take was pretty goofy—his 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: 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 scenes in all of the versions.) Cooper acknowledges the prior films without stealing from them. Fans of the Streisand version will appreciate what they see here.
Gaga allegedly 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 tracks like “Shallow,” and the film’s closing number, “I’ll Never Love Again,” is the stuff of movie legend. And while this sort of magic is more or less expected from Gaga, to have Cooper up there, 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 at times when her pop career takes off but not enough to hurt the movie or diminish the film’s instant classic status, especially in the realm of musicals. 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 as this one has. Gaga is now a frontrunner for an acting Oscar, Cooper finds himself in the running for directing, and “Shallow” would seem predestined for an Original Song win.
So, 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; Cooper and Gaga are one of the all-time great screen pairings. You’ll do yourself a disservice if you miss this one.