“A Star Is Born” (R)
There shouldn’t be any questions about the story in “A Star Is Born.” That part of it is tried and true, with Hollywood returning to it every couple of decades for a freshened-up remake. Actually, it’s been four decades since the most recent one, with Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand as the established star on his way down and the newcomer on her way up. The story has always been about the relationship between the two characters and an examination of their careers right around and soon after the time they meet.
Now those roles have been handed to Bradley Cooper as a hugely successful country-rocker, and Lady Gaga as a waitress who only wants to sing. The questions for this new one are: Can she act? Can he sing? And even more important, seeing as this is the first time Cooper has called the shots, can he direct?
The three questions get three big affirmatives. This is a splashy and spectacular modern-day romantic drama with music.
Sure, it can be accused of depending on a string of coincidences to get the story spinning: After a big show, Jackson (Cooper), exhausted and in need of a drink, tells his driver to stop at a bar, any bar. The one he enters — not knowing it’s a drag bar, which provides some early humor — just happens to be the one where Abby (Gaga) sings at night, hoping to forget her day job and keep her musical dreams alive.
And there are plenty of clichés to deal with: He’s a hard drinker and a pill popper, but even in his stupor, the moment he hears her launch into a gorgeous rendition of “La Vie en Rose,” he’s smitten, captivated, both by her voice and by her. Later on, their harmonizing, whether it’s the vocalizing kind or the romantic kind, is perfect. Even later, after he convinces her to go for it and she begins to attain it, someone else enters the scene, your standard record producer who’s looking for the next big thing, trying to make her his own. Yes, all Hollywood clichés, but somehow, none of them get in the way of where this film is going.
There are a few points where you start to wonder about who this story is really about — Jackson or Abby. Truth is, it’s kind of a tie. He falls for her, she falls for him, their careers meld for a while. But then his hard-living begins to take its toll, and her ambition sparks her rise. They’re a happy couple, for a while, and Cooper does a nice job establishing that in close-ups of them together, but he also excels at showing them and their differences in separate close-ups of them.
He also displays a confidence in directing actors, getting a couple of the best performances from — no surprise — Sam Elliott as Jack’s older brother Bobby, who’s back story discloses that he’s taken care of Jack since childhood, and continues to as his manager, and from the fellow who plays Abby’s Sinatra-loving and showbiz-savvy dad Lorenzo. It wasn’t till the credits ran at the end that I realized it was Andrew Dice Clay, in a role that he’ll want to keep right at the top of his résumé.
There’s a great deal of energy in the film, even when the drama of it starts to bring the mood down via jealousy, drug- and drinking problems, and the clashing of career paths. The script has no qualms about aiming barbs at the stardom it at first appears to be celebrating. That record producer forces her to put on lots of makeup, add costumed dancers to her act, and change the style of music she’d been singing. It also seemed to me that the songs in the latter parts of the film are far more formulaic than what she did earlier. Take that, music business.
If you’ve seen any of the previous versions, you know what course this one will take, and how you’ll feel at the end. If this is all new to you, you might want to bring along a couple of tissues, for purposes of eye dabbing.