Fantastic Stars and Wonderful Songs
Throughout A Star is Born, Bradley Cooper’s character growls out the lyrics “Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die” with a crooning intimacy that lays the familiar groundwork for what’s at play in his film about two stars passing in the night; one fading away, the other just learning to burn. This is a new take on the well-worn love story about two artistic souls coming together on stage and sharing their journey in life. There’s a reason the story has been brought to film no fewer than three times through the decades by such luminaries as Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland, Kris Kristofferson, and Barbra Streisand. It is a timeless one. And it speaks to the eternal nature of human feelings, abject failings, and the music that gets us through it all.
Bradley Cooper puts his own stamp on the story this time around as he co-writes, produces, stars, and even takes the director’s chair for the first time in the film that also marks Lady Gaga’s big screen introduction. And they are both fantastic.
One would be hard pressed to recognize this as a film that features two huge stars, each making the transition to a new medium. But they are, and Cooper and Gaga complement one another like a pair of well-worn leather slippers. One of the most difficult things for actors to get right on screen is chemistry; that perfect blend of charisma and charm that allows us to buy into whatever it is they are selling. In A Star is Born, not only are we buying, we shove every last one of our chips to the center of the table as these two put on a master class in making us believe. And those goosebumps when the two sing together? Those are real. Don’t try to figure it out, just enjoy.
Cooper is seasoned musician Jackson Maine who we see take the stage as the film opens -- but not before washing down a handful of pills with a huge swig of booze. We get the feeling this is a normal routine for the road-weary singer who comes to life in front of an audience, yet struggles to keep it together away from the limelight. When he accidentally stumbles into a drag bar one night he meets his muse in the form of a struggling musician with the perfect voice named Ally (Gaga) who still lives with her father (an unrecognizable Andrew Dice Clay), and toils away at a dead-end job.
The two eventually begin to fall for one another, and it is not long until Jack invites Ally onto the stage to sing one of her originals. But she’s shy, lacks confidence, and is still shaken by recording execs who recognize her undeniable talents but remind her that she’ll never make it in the biz with her average-girl looks. Personally, I think Lady Gaga looks totally bad-ass cool as Ally, with her stripped-down look that plays nicely with the rawness of her character. Regardless, she takes a deep breathe, quickly nods in approval, and skitters to the front of the stage. As those first notes rip into the microphone and reverberate over the crowd of thousands, let those goosebumps take over as you watch a star being born.
Unfortunately, the careers of the two singers are on a Benjamin Button trajectory as we watch Jack self-implode into a cloud of drugs and booze before stumbling through the chorus of his hit song, “It takes a lot to change a man and it takes a lot to try; maybe it’s time to let the old ways die.” Their relationship begins to sour and we’re given a front row seat into what sometimes happens behind the velvet ropes and pulled back curtains of the private lives of superstars. The lively spark of who he first fell in love with is snuffed by the manufactured pop songs and dance routines of what makes today’s modern-day stars.
The stellar performances of Cooper and Gaga aren’t the only ones worthy of recognition here. The rest of the cast is clearly all in as well, especially Sam Elliott as Jack’s older brother, road manager, surrogate father, counselor and even drinking buddy. Andrew Dice Clay is actually quite charming as Ally’s Sinatra-wanna-be father, while Dave Chapelle turns in a surprisingly nice performance as lifelong friend “Noodles,” who represents a different path Jack might have taken in his life.
What would a movie about music and musicians be without great music? Standing in as some of the film’s biggest characters are the wonderful songs written by Cooper, Gaga, and Lukas Nelson that throw in a brilliant mix of the sounds inspired by Neil Young, The Who, Pete Townshend, Waylon Jennings, and The Strokes. I highly recommend catching A Star is Born on the big screen in the Dolby format. Sit back, fall in love, and let it wash over you. Watch a star being born.
(Released by Warner Bros./Live Nation Productions/ Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and rated “R” for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity, substance abuse.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.