A Star is Born
Bradley Cooper, director and co-script w/Eric Roth and Will Fetters
Starring Bradley Cooper (Jackson Maine), Lady Gaga (Ally), Sam Elliott (Bobby Maine), Dave Chappelle (Noodles), Andrew Dice Clay (Lorenzo)
Anyone interested in Bradley Cooper’s new version of A Star is Born will have already heard the good news, after thousands of gushing comments from viewers of it at the Venice Film Festival and TIFF hit the twitter-verse last month. This, the fourth version the hoary old chestnut of a male star in decline promoting his new lover to stardom, may be the best yet. It’s certainly one of the finest films of the year—an uncanny combination of music, romance and drama. The only question is how many Oscars will the film pick up?
Bradley Cooper took a huge gamble on reviving A Star is Born. The last version, with Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, made lots of money but was very badly reviewed. (We’ll never know what would have happened had Elvis Presley taken the role of the star on the skids; it would have made it a cult success in any case.) The press, which is full of profiles on Cooper, keep on making the point that he could have written his own ticket as a male lead after the success of American Sniper. But directing and remaking Star was the only thing on Cooper’s mind and he made good on his intuition.
Cooper is nigh on perfect as Jackson Maine—it used to be Norman in earlier editions—a rock star, who has been abusing himself with booze and drugs for way too many years. Astonishingly, Cooper isn’t a musician. He worked on his singing for months, imitating Eddie Vedder’s stage moves and presence and the voice of Sam Elliott, the veteran actor most famous for his whisky tinged tones as the narrator in The Big Lebowski. Cooper is absolutely convincing as the damaged singer/guitarist.
Lady Gaga, whose star is born in the film, had never acted in a big budget film before being asked by Cooper to appear in this one. To say she makes an impact as an angry, conflicted, anxious, talented singer is putting it mildly. She starts off convincingly as someone with low self-esteem and we see her gradual development into a mature performer and human being. There are moments when she is too mannered but Gaga is believable as a character who has to deal with a surfeit of drama in her life. She and Cooper are shoe-ins for Oscar nominations.
The Academy Award winner in my admittedly flawed estimation—I’m not great as an Oscar prognosticator!—is Sam Elliott, who plays Cooper’s much older half-brother. Elliott fits into the role as a pair of old shoes fills your feet: he gives you the gritty reality of someone who has spent his adult life trying to protect a brother, who is hell bent on self-destruction. He should win as Best Supporting Actor—though a better role and performance may pop up in the usual slew of December arty releases.
Cooper’s inspiration was to continue with the conceit in the Streisand/Kristofferson version. Moving the story from Hollywood to music was the right choice in the Seventies and even more so now. Cooper’s decline as Jackson Maine seems inevitable and quite logical. So does Gaga’s move into stardom under proper management, with an appropriately hip persona.
The chemistry between Gaga, Cooper and Elliott is combustible. Some of us will never forget the brilliant Judy Garland/James Mason/George Cukor version of A Star is Born and especially the scene where Judy sings the Harold Arlen/Ira Gershwin classic “The man who got away” in a late night jam session. But Bradley Cooper with Lady Gaga has made a brilliant film, one that will deliver great box office and awards. Go to it. You’ll love it.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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