Reviews: a star is born

Actor-director Bradley Cooper and his pop-star costar turn a millennial take on this Hollywood warhorse into a modern classic

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"A Star Is Born" (above), "Mrs. Maisel" and "Black Panther" all received multiple nominations for the 2019 Golden Globe Awards.Neal Preston/Warner Bros. Pictures

One star soars; the other crashes and burns. It’s a tale as old as time, flattened and fatigued by constant repetition. So why in hell did Bradley Cooper choose to make his debut as director with the third remake of A Star Is Born? What could he bring to the role of the self-destructive headliner living in the shadow of the protégée he loves? And why did he have Lady Gaga, going out on a limb in her first starring role, to follow in the footsteps of the legends who previously aced the role of the newbie: Barbra Streisand (1976), Judy Garland (1954) and Janet Gaynor (1937)? Talk about walking a tightrope without a net.

The movie starts and you think, “Oh no, not again.” And then, boom: Cooper sneaks up and snaps you to attention. Though there’s no disguising the film’s dated origins, the actor-turned-
director’s defiantly fresh approach allows A Star Is Born to emerge as a skyrocket of soul-stirring music, drama and heartbreak. By dumping the usual Hollywood bullshit for something that feels raw, scrappy and lived-in, Cooper and Gaga knock it out of the park. Seamlessly integrating terrific original songs with a script he wrote with Eric Roth and Will Fetters, Cooper refashions his Star for a right-now generation tired of watching blunt truth give way to softball fantasy. The Oscar race has now officially begun.

His character, Jackson Maine, is a washed-up country rocker with a love of booze and lines of blow. The musician’s depressive state has its roots in a turbulent childhood reflected in his contentious relationship with his older brother Bobby (Sam Elliott), who resents Jackson for co-opting his voice. And Dave Chappelle scores as Noodles, a friend who worries that not even love can save the hard-livin’ musician’s soul. Cooper’s performance is enhanced by his surprisingly credible singing. There are times when Jackson’s lyrics still get through to him, as in, “Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die.”

Or maybe it’s time for him to find his purpose in helping Ally, a waitress who’s getting nowhere as a singer-songwriter. The role is usually played as an ingénue looking for guidance in a world of male predators. Lucky for us — and the movie — Gaga doesn’t do ingénue. Her would-be star from a boisterous Italian family (Andrew Dice Clay barrels through the role of her rowdy Sinatra-crooner dad) has been kicked around by an industry that likes her sound but not her look. She’s a street fighter who knows she’s good. Still, Ally balks when this famous singer drags her onstage.