Nutshell: THAT’S how it’s done. An amazing remake by first-time director Cooper that’s full of the sturm, drang and achingly beautiful moments we expect from this classic story. He’s got his work cut out for him with his next film; Star is perfection. Grade: A
“They serve alcohol? Then it’s my kinda place.”
Story: Music superstar Jackson Maine is talented as hell. He’s also got addictions that keep him on the razor’s edge of losing it all. When he sees a young talented woman perform in an out-of-the-way bar, he’s amazed at her talent and instantly smitten. But as her singing career takes off, Jackson’s demons rise up.
Genre I’d put it in: Remakes You Never Knew You Really REALLY Needed
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Okay, stay with me here. The third remake of this story, adding to the original dramatic film starring Janet Gaynor and Frederick March 1937, the musical remake with Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954, and the rockin’ 1976 film starring Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Got it? Good.
Gotta say: Who hasn’t ever wanted to be a star? Well, be someone with the kind of talent that makes people take notice. Maybe it’s a lifelong dream, or maybe it’s something that flits through your head whenever you see a truly gifted individual at his or her best. But the “what if” hits everyone at one time or another. The basic story of A Star Is Born shows the glamour, but focuses on the often painful moments behind the scenes, when the star is just another human being trying to make it through life like the rest of us. With this retelling, writer/director/star Bradley Cooper breathes 21st Century life into this classic tale. And I’m damn impressed.
And I don’t know who decided on Lady Gaga for the ingenue Ally, but that person gets my sincerest thanks. Gaga’s onscreen chemistry with Cooper is absolutely breathtaking. From the moment they meet and attraction sparks, to their lowest lows, their Jackson and Ally feel like a real couple. The love, fight, perform, and every moment is electric. Star is the film that will put Gaga-as-actor on the map, and well it should. She digs into the character, coming up with nuances that rival any seasoned performer. I guarantee you she’ll get attention come award season, and she deserves every bit that will come her way.
Of course she’s a vocal powerhouse as well. It’s official; there ain’t nothin’ Mama Monster can’t sing. The Star soundtrack jumps around genres, much as the characters do. With Jackson’s country roots and Ally’s quiet indie vibe (which turns into…well, I’ll get to that in a sec), the soundtrack reflects this. Cooper has said that the songs “became a character in the movie”, and with Gaga and Cooper writing the bulk of the songs in the film, it’s no wonder. These songs aren’t just moments where the characters perform their craft, they’re peeks into heart and soul. Be prepared to really lose it when Jackson and Ally’s collaborative composition “I’ll Never Love Again” fires up. It’s a testament to their love, and their talents, and it’s sure to be performed onstage come the Oscars.
There are a lot of similarities to earlier incarnations of this tale, though it’s much darker than the ’76 version, harking back to the earlier stories. With this Star there’s a stint in rehab (replacing the “sanatorium” from ’37 and ’54), a jerkwad manager who sends the newly sober addict into despair, and a spin on the shut-up-you’re-crying-too final line from Ally. There’s also the addition of an older brother for Jackson, played by the [fans self] amazing Sam Elliott. As Bobby, Elliott plays the protector (and oftentimes the enabler), doing everything he can to prevent Jackson’s complete destruction. There’s a long-burning friction between Bobby and Jackson, but Elliott and Cooper lend a believable familial connection between the two, no matter what’s going on between them at the time. It’s a welcome subplot that adds to the main story, and gives greater heft to Jackson’s addictions.
That Cooper pulled off such an amazing hat trick with this film is flat-out amazing. That this was his first feature-length time behind the camera is even more impressive. I can’t imagine being able to deliver such an incredible performance while trying to pull together the film as a whole and keep the script tight. Cooper deserves all the good things that will definitely be coming his way award season. Plus, that boy can sing. Seriously; the soundtrack is filled with gorgeous songs, and Cooper’s lowdown country vocals are really, really good. I’d see him live.
Go. Bring tissues. Sink into this beautiful story. Marvel at the fact that with remake #4, there’s a whole lotta shine to this Star.
#Protip: Be prepared to fall completely and totally in love with Jackson and Ally’s dog. But don’t go too deep – that pup’s already taken, and has been for quite some time. By Bradley Cooper himself.