A Star Is Born gives Lady Gaga a platform worthy of her immense talent. Bradley Cooper spent four years obsessed with his remake and update of A Star Is Born. This investment of time, energy and creativity pays dividends in his writing/directing debut. It also stars Cooper as Jackson Maine, a popular country musician fighting to maintain his hearing and his appeal. But this film showcases the glorious, brilliant performance by Lady Gaga.
As Ally Campana, a gem in the rough, Lady Gaga is dynamite. With Maine as her fan, lover and promoter, she nervously embraces and wisely navigates a career ascent. Ally enjoys the support of her father Lorenzo, running an L.A. limo service. She also asserts herself with him, showing her mettle. Lorenzo and his friends add rich texture to Ally’s life, as do Jack’s stories about his father and conflicts with older brother Bobby, barely coping with Jack’s meltdowns.
The cliched third act drags (films need to get shorter, not longer!) but the first and second acts shine, with the opening scenes exceptionally impressive. In them, director Cooper relies on details that immediately, dynamically tell the story: the introductory background of crowd noises, the pills, drinks straight out of the battle for Jackson, and his bowed head. Contrasting with that, Ally is in a lonely, very clean bathroom, speaking softly in a claustrophobic stall, emerging not to an adoring crowd but to a startling black-and-white checkerboard floor. She screams alone and walks swinging her arms up a dark, confining alley. Cooper stages interaction meticulously, liking small moments and close-ups that reveal a lot. Delivering solid support are: Andrew Dice Clay, Sam Elliott, Rafi Gavron and Dave Chapelle.
A Star Is Born mounts a beautiful tribute to passionate, devoted love and the most dire warning regarding the ugliness of alcoholism and its self-destructive trajectory. Of further note, Cooper refashions the jealousy that crushes Maine in the previous three versions to a more heart-breaking sadness and poignant dismay at his own inability to support and keep up with his protégé. As Maine spirals downward, Cooper captures the enervating crush of celebrity, the exhausting demand to perform on stage and in the studio, and the impossibility of maintaining a private life. But as Jack’s and Ally’s lives intertwine and fall apart, Cooper knows the story’s emotional core resides in doomed love, and it is profoundly moving.