This is the third retelling of A Star is Born. We had the 1937 original remade in 1954, 1976 and now 2018. In his feature film directorial debut, what can Bradley Cooper bring to audiences that feels fresh and compelling? The answer is plenty.
As well as directing, Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a gifted and grizzled star that falls hard for Ally (Lady Gaga), whose voice strengthens and captivates as the plot progresses. Ally’s evolution from drag queen lounge singer to global pop attraction is, like Lady Gaga’s voice, riveting. Everything about her performance and look (even her bright orange hair!) feels authentic — which is challenging in a story that tips naturally into melodrama.
Primarily this is a love story and for it to work, the chemistry between the leads needs to be something the audience feels. Unlike the 1976 version with Kristofferson and Streisand, there is chemistry aplenty. The film emphasizes conversation and the little moments that make two people fall in love. Cooper and Gaga achieve this early in a grocery store car park, forecasting their musical synergy. It’s already an internet meme, but when Cooper shouts from an SUV window, “I just wanted to take another look at you,” it still feels special in context and not just the obligatory line that featured in the previous three films.
Jackson, however, is on a destructive arc fueled by alcohol and drugs. He begins the film downing pills and gin before a performance. He finishes his set by slugging from the bottle. His addiction, to both alcohol and drugs, is particularly unkind, amplified when he disrupts Ally’s speech at the Grammys by peeing his pants.
The songs are original and good. We knew Lady Gaga could sing but who knew Bradley Cooper could, and not in a Pierce Brosnan way, more in a Jon Bon Jovi way?
I've given this film a 4.5 out of 5 - high marks indeed - simply because of the charm and on-screen chemistry between the two leads. The strong cast also includes grounded, emotional performances by Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay and Dave Chappelle. It is a simple story, told simply with warmth and humanity.
To date, my favourite version has been the 1954 one with James Mason and Judy Garland. Up until now it has been my "go to" version. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga have modernized this story with a depth of feeling and musicality that is destined to saturate awards season.
Oh, and bring some tissues.