OK, so the only thing you really need to know about “A Star Is Born” is that an actual star is born. Two of them. You go there, and you witness two stars getting borned.
Yes, Lady Gaga is a star. She’s already been a major star for a long time, but a rock star. She wasn’t a movie star. Now she’s officially also a movie star. Girl can act. We all figured she could, but she waited for the perfect vehicle and then crushed it; it’s perfection in showbiz savvy, timing, and talent.
Lady Gaga long ago out-Madonna’d Madonna. Gaga always had more talent as a singer-dancer, with just as much business chops as the groundbreaking Madonna. However, notoriously, Madonna could never act. Gaga blows Madonna’s doors off acting-wise.
The Marketing Alone
The buzz buildup was stupendous: Lady Gaga rode to the Venice Film Festival on a boat, the trailer’s been in the theaters forever, and everyone was curious to see whether Gaga could out-Streisand Barbra Streisand. Because it was the exact same deal: same drop-dead singing talent. Same large nose that agents had been saying for ages she should size-reduce, but she, like Streisand before her, refused.
And unlike Kris Kristofferson, Bradley Cooper is one of the premier actors of his day. And now he’s a director. Another star is born. Two stars born, before your very eyes, for the price of one.
The 1937 “A Star Is Born” starred Fredric March and Janet Gaynor; the 1954 musical version starred James Mason and Judy Garland, and the 1976 Kristofferson-Streisand version started the current rock star trend. It also started the trend of the alcoholic male character showing up soused at the spouse’s Grammy win and making a fool of both of them. The current version is darker and more disturbing, and showcases serious acting by both parties.
How the Star Is Born
Jackson Maine (Cooper) does his rock star thing, establishing himself as an Eddie Vedder-type star gone slightly country. Maine’s a guitar hero and a backstage chaser of powdered substances with alcoholic beverages. The only thing that doesn’t ring quite true to life is whether, with that long greasy hair, leather hat, and grunge-meets-country niche, he’d be that level of Led Zeppelin-famous.
So now we’re in the limo, and Maine’s naturally in need of a drink. Where to go? Any port in a storm. Said port turns out to be a bar on the outskirts of town. Maine witnesses a fabulous performance of “La Vie En Rose” by someone looking a lot like Gaga, named Ally. He’s instantaneously smitten.
They share a singer-songwriter moment in the parking lot, after hours; he invites her to his next gig, and don’t-cha know, he’s written up her parking lot ditty in such a manner that all she’s gotta do is step onstage, to full band accompaniment, and sing her song. And the rest is “A Star Is Born” history.
Andrew Dice Clay plays Gaga’s warm and doting dad; he’s some kind of connected mafioso type who fancied himself a crooner à la Sinatra, in his day. He’s got elderly, suit-wearing cronies, and while we don’t learn what exactly it is that he does, when Maine says of his own vinyl collection, “Take anything you like,” Ally’s dad says, “Take anything I like? He’s talking to the wrong group of guys.” Dice Clay’s never been better; this may herald a career renaissance for him.
Sam Elliott plays Bobby, Jackson’s older brother and the caretaker/codependent to his more talented alcoholic sibling. Elliott’s always a pleasure, with his Silverado truck-selling basso profundo and excellent ‘stache.
Dave Chappelle is wasted as childhood buddy “Noodles.” If you’re going to hire someone with the level of funny that Chappelle commands, let them be more funny.
It’s Gaga’s Show
Ally’s an extremely fun spitfire of an Italian daughter who commands the house of her father and his cronies, and shoos them and tidies and cooks and rules the roost. For Maine, she’s also a wife to die for.
But it’s Gaga’s singing and performing and piano playing that anchor this movie. She demonstrates what true, abundant charisma is. She’s not a classic beauty, doesn’t have a drop-dead bod, or great hair, or anything visually particularly special. But let her start singing, and every man in the house will fall in love with her. Prepare to tumble when she does her second big number, “Always Remember Us This Way,” a heartstring-plucking piano number that draws the stereotypical predatory record label executive like the proverbial moth to the flame.
What makes it all work is that up until now, Gaga’s been the consummate pro showbiz phenom: distant, unattainable, unknowable. Here, she lets us see behind the curtain of the great and terrible Lady Gaga, and the warmth and vulnerability and accessibility are immediately captivating.
And we all know Cooper can act. We didn’t quite expect he could knock his directorial debut out of the park. He did.
‘A Star Is Born’
Director: Bradley Cooper
Starring: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, Alec Baldwin, Ron Rifkin
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Release Date: Oct. 5
Rated 4 stars out of 5