The Oscar race is officially on with the release of this contemporary version of the enduring Hollywood classic. Bradley Cooper stars as charming Jackson Maine, a country rock star, plagued by alcohol/drug addiction, coupled with hearing loss. One night, in need of a drink after leaving a gig, Jackson stumbles into a drag bar, where he watches Ally (Lady Gaga), a wannabe-but-insecure singer/songwriter, warbling Edit Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose.”
Their chemistry instantly ignites. Later, when Jackson dispatches his driver to bring Ally to one of his concerts, he summons her on-stage, where the audience instantly responds to her subtle yet sensational, natural artistry.
Predictably, their romantic relationship becomes rocky when her career trajectory soars to superstardom, just as his declines. As part of her record deal Ally’s British manager (Rafi Gavron) insists that she discard her makeup-free, down-to-earth persona and assume a glitzy pop star image.
Making his directorial debut, Cooper filmed at actual music festivals (Stagecoach, Glastonbury, Coachella), where they both sang live, instead of lip-syncing to pre-recorded tracks. He’d made a bargain with Lady Gaga, who said, “I’m gonna rely on you to get a performance out of me, and I’m gonna make sure you’re going to be a real musician.”
The revised, Pygmalion-inspired screenplay by Will Fetters, Eric Roth & Cooper is timely and relevant, delving into the psychological aspects of addiction/co-dependence. The writers invent two additional characters who provide pivotal support: Sam Elliott as Jackson’s older brother/manager and Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s limo-driving father.
Cooper credits Lukas Nelson, son of country legend Willie Nelson, for character inspiration with Lukas serving as music consultant/composer, while glimpses of “Saturday Night Live” and the Grammys lend authenticity.
The original in 1932 was called “What Price Hollywood?” as a veteran director (Lowell Sherman) transformed a waitress (Constance Bennett) into a star. In 1937, that became “A Star Is Born” with Janet Gaynor & Fredrick March; in 1954, Judy Garland & James Mason; in 1976, Barbra Streisand/Kris Kristofferson.
Supposedly screenwriter Dorothy Parker was motivated by onetime chorus girl Barbara Stanwyck’s marriage to Broadway headliner Frank Fay in the 1920s, after which his career nosedived.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, A Star Is Born is an exhilarating 10, a bittersweet romance.