There are moments in A Star Is Born that give you goosebumps: Lady Gaga belting out a powerful solo, the tender and frail love story on display, the emotional climax that resonates with warmth and beauty. With Gaga starring opposite Bradley Cooper as the leads, it’s easy to see why the film has such pre-release buzz, why it has been dubbed an Oscar contender by some, and why some critics consider it the best version of this story (more on that later).
This film is undeniably good, especially the chemistry between Gaga and Cooper, and the real emotional stakes that comprise their characters’ relationship. He plays Jackson Maine, a burned-out country music star with a crippling drug and alcohol addiction. She’s Ally, a waitress and aspiring singer yet to be discovered. One night after a show, in a bar, he sees her singing “La Vie En Rose” in French and is immediately transfixed, mesmerized by her voice and beauty. As they spend time together they fall in love – then she becomes a star while his stardom fades.
This is the fourth interpretation of A Star Is Born, and not the best, though it is a worthy addition to the canon. All of the previous versions were good movies as well: The 1937 original starred Oscar winners Janet Gaynor and Frederic March; in 1954 it became a musical with an Oscar-worthy Judy Garland and James Mason; and in 1976 Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson brought the story to the big screen. (Both Kristofferson and Streisand visited the set of the 2018 version during production, though on different days.)
Of the four, the Garland version remains the best because of its songs and Garland’s notably impressive performance.
The Gaga/Cooper version isn’t far behind Garland’s, but you can tell Gaga is a singer first and actor second, and you can tell Cooper is an actor first and singer second. With Streisand and Garland, no such distinction could be made.
What’s great about Gaga’s Ally, though, is how strong she is. Yes, she’s in love with a flawed man, but she largely stays true to her convictions and writes and performs her own songs even as her publicity-seeking manager (Rafi Gavron) tries to globalize her appeal.
And wow, what songs Gaga, Cooper (who also directs) and songwriter Lukas Nelson (Willie’s son) give us. “Shallow” is the song from the trailer that’s gotten people excited. “Always Remember Us This Way” is beautifully done. “I’ll Never Love Again” from the finale is a real tearjerker. Expect at least one of the above, if not all, to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Song.
Gaga and Cooper are buoyed by a strong supporting cast that includes Sam Elliott as Jackson’s older brother, Dave Chappelle as Jackson’s old friend, Anthony Ramos as Ally’s best friend, and Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s father, who insists he had a better voice than Sinatra. In addition to the rapport Gaga and Cooper share, exceptional ensemble work elevates the rest of the film.
Broadly, musicals are becoming du jour once again: Two years ago it was La La Land, and last year it was The Greatest Showman. A Star Is Born does nothing to hurt that trend, and to be sure, if you like musicals or Gaga, you will not want to miss it.
A STAR IS BORN ( 3 ) • Directed by Bradley Cooper • Starring Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle • Rated R • 135 min. • At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Century Marina, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas, Lighthouse Cinemas.