If A STAR IS BORN (2018) is anything, it’s a showcase for its two performers, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, who share strong chemistry throughout and lift this film at times to something quite special.
It also happens to be a remake.
A third remake, to be exact.
And so originality is definitely lacking. I’ve seen this story told three times before, in 1937 starring Fredric March and Janet Gaynor, in 1954 with James Mason and Judy Garland, and in 1976 with Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand. As good as this new version of A STAR IS BORN is, and it is very good, it really can’t get over the fact that it’s telling the same story the fourth time around.
Famed musician and performer Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) while riding high on the celebrity charts is struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. One night, after a show, he visits a bar and happens to catch the performance of a young woman named Ally (Lady Gaga). Jack is instantly impressed, and he basically asks her out on the spot. She initially says no, but Jack persists, and Ally gives in and agrees to go on a date with him.
They hit it off immediately, and Jack encourages Ally to pursue her songwriting career. In fact, one night at one of his concerts, he invites Ally on stage to sing with him, and the rest is history. Ally makes a big splash, and as her career is born and takes off, Jack continues to struggle with his addictions, leading the two, in spite of their romantic relationship, on opposite life journeys.
So, there’s the story, and if you’ve seen any of the previous film versions, it’s one you’re familiar with. Now, I liked this 2018 version of A STAR IS BORN, but I would have liked it even more had I not known exactly what was going to happen.
The best part of this new A STAR IS BORN is the performances by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. They are completely believable in their roles and as I said they do share tremendous chemistry onscreen. It’s not an exaggeration to say the two sizzle as a couple, which makes their characters’ ultimate fate all the more tragic.
Cooper, who is also making his directorial debut here—more on that in a bit— is excellent as Jackson Maine. For starters, I believe he did his own singing and guitar playing here, which is pretty awesome, considering how good he sounds. He makes Jack an authentic music star. And he’s likable. When he’s on top of his game, he’s generous enough to help Ally get started and more so he falls completely in love with her.
As Jack’s addictions grow worse, Cooper makes his pain so palpable you almost feel as if you’re drinking too much along with him.
Jack tells Ally that success is fleeting, and the world is full of talented people, but the ones who make it are the ones who have something to say, and he advises her to tell the truth, because truth is what compels audiences to show up. It’s perfect advice and reflects one of the secrets to good writing: keep it truthful. This theme resonates throughout the movie.
Lady Gaga is just as good if not better than Cooper. At first, she shows us Ally’s vulnerabilities and her lack of self-confidence, which is one of the reasons she’s so hesitant at first to spend time with Jack, as she fears he may only want to take advantage of her. But she soon realizes that’s not the case.
And of course, once she starts singing, being Lady Gaga, her voice takes on a life of its own and obviously makes her newfound fame completely credible. More impressive, though, aside from her singing, is that she shows off some first-class acting chops. I liked Ally and wanted to see her succeed, and more so, I was pulling for Ally’s and Jack’s relationship to succeed as well.
It’s also not lost on me that there is an added layer to this movie regarding the real life performers. We have Bradley Cooper, an actor, playing a famous singer, and Lady Gaga, a famous singer, making her acting debut, playing a newcomer to the entertainment scene. As I watched their early scenes together, where Jack advises Ally how to handle her music career, I couldn’t help but think it’s Lady Gaga who knows the ins and outs of the music industry, and in reality she’s the one who could be doing the advising.
As I said, A STAR IS BORN is Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, and it’s a strong one. His work behind the camera shows that he’s a good storyteller, as the film conveys its emotions at all the right places. The story moves at a decent pace with the possible exception of the third act which drags a bit.
Cooper also wrote the screenplay along with Eric Roth and Will Fetters. Roth has a ton of writing credits, including FORREST GUMP 1994).
A STAR IS BORN also features a strong supporting cast. Sam Elliott, in spite of the fact that sometimes his muttering is difficult to understand, does a fine job as Jack’s older brother and some-time manager Bobby. The two share some emotional scenes together, in particular one where Jack says some pretty hurtful things to his older brother, and later, the opposite, where Jack tells Bobby the truth about how he has always looked up to him.
Andrew Dice Clay gives a nice subdued performance as Ally’s dad Lorenzo. And Dave Chapelle enjoys some key scenes as Jack’s buddy George “Noodles” Stone.
Overall, I liked A STAR IS BORN, mostly because I really enjoyed watching Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga together on screen. The film also has something to say about success, the entertainment industry, and alcohol and drug addiction.
However, I would have liked it more had I not known exactly how this ill-fated love story was going to end.