Director: Bradley Cooper
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott
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Is there anything Bradley Cooper or Lady Gaga can’t do? Judging by A Star Is Born, possibly not. This latest remake of a familiar star-crossed romance is a soul-filling wonder, which finds emotional clout between catchy notes and sincere romance underneath stylish riffs – not bad going for an actor’s directorial debut.
As well as holding the camera, Cooper plays country rock legend Jackson Maine, who is reinvigorated by the discovery of Ally (Gaga) in a backstreet bar. She dazzles everyone in the house with a performance of La Vie En Rose, delivered with a hint of full Gaga style, but the rest of her turn is rather more understated, as Ally goes through the challenge of staying true to herself while climbing up the music ladder.
That means more time is given to Cooper’s grizzled veteran, as his career nosedives into a musically fatal combination of deteriorating hearing and heavy drinking. Cooper delivers a fantastically authentic turn, complete with beard, guitar strumming and growling vocals several octaves below his actual pitch – although the growing focus on him occasionally risks weighing down the narrative, when you want more time with Gaga’s rising star. But this is a remake happy to tread a conventional path, following three previous versions of the story (and countless beats echoed elsewhere).
Not that the movie lets you think about any other versions of this time-honoured fable. The chance to see Sam Elliott – part granite, part moustache – go toe to toe with Cooper as Jackson’s older brother and manager is a hard-hitting joy; Gaga’s scenes at the piano or in the recording studio are wonderfully raw; and every time she or Cooper step up to the mic, the screen crackles with vibrant electricity (courtesy of DoP Matthew Libatique), as Ally belts out every feeling going without holding back. The flagship track Shallow is not only a lock for the Best Original Song Oscar; it’s a lock for your Best Bangers playlist for the next decade.
If the end result sometimes feels a tad overstuffed, A Star Is Born is only guilty of having too much heart – one it wears unabashedly on its mic stand. The script by Eric Roth (Forrest Gump), Will Fetters (The Lucky One) and Cooper, manages to use the couple’s careers to chart their emotional journey without descending into unsubtle sentiment; from Ally’s pop song about jeans, filtered through Jackson’s lens of dubious disapproval, to her gob-smackingly awkward evening at an awards ceremony, it mixes real talent with honest vulnerability. The result is a foot-stomping tearjerker of a musical that will have you in tears by the end of the first number. Prepare to have the soundtrack on repeat.