A Star is Born is a movie about finally getting the chance to shine brightly, an appropriate theme for its two stars, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Already celebrities in their own right, the pair seize the opportunity to explore new dimensions of their art and connect with audiences in fresh ways, Cooper as a first-time director and Gaga as a first-time lead performer. Each is committed to giving it their all, and the enthusiasm shines through.
Is it good? As a movie it’s fine. As a platform for gifted actors to find the raw nerve of their character’s emotional journey and give the audience a means to find its own, it’s pretty incredible. Everybody wants to be seen for who they truly are, and the first time Gaga’s character spreads her wings, whatever cynicism you may have had about remakes, popstars-turned-actors, awards season campaigns, and the like, start to melt away.
The film tells the story of Ally (Gaga) and Jackson Maine (Cooper). Jackson is an established country-rock star with tinnitus and dependencies on pills and alcohol, all of which are worsening. While on the hunt for booze, he discovers Ally belting it out in a drag bar. The chemistry is immediately clear, and she improvises a song about their whirlwind night together. The next day, he brings her to his show to perform an arrangement of that song, and she is a sensation. But all of the glitz and glam can’t conceal the deep insecurities eating away at Jack, threatening their relationship and both of their careers.
As a director, Cooper shows a knack for existing in the present, fully exploring the emotions in a current situation instead of anticipating the future. Watching a person living moment to moment often proves to be more tense than attempting to decode foreshadowing. The audience rides the highs and suffers the lows alongside Ally and Jack. Even if we can’t relate to the characters’ specific circumstances, the universal human emotions on full display make them much easier to feel.
The true revelation in the film is Gaga, a performer whose music has always embraced theatricality. Here, she is dedicated to the role yet wholly unpretentious, making Ally more than just a variation on Gaga herself (as opposed to, say, Eminem in 8 Mile). Gaga taps into Ally’s individuality and delivers a knockout performance, a star-making turn as an actress. She deftly avoids comparisons to Barbra Streisand’s 1976 Golden Globe-winning version of the same role, and Andrew Dice Clay as her father is a particularly inspired bit of casting.
Cooper’s direction is perfectly uncomplicated, no doubt having learned some lessons from his time with Clint Eastwood. Cooper proves to be more sentimental than Eastwood, and that’s to the advantage of A Star is Born. His performance is rich, his presence is substantial, and his direction of himself is rarely flashy or self-indulgent.
A straightforward movie about big dreams and bigger emotions, A Star is Born is guaranteed not to leave a dry eye in the house.
A Star is Born
R, 136 minutes; Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema
Playing this week
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema 377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056 Bad Times at the El Royale, First Man, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, Night School, Smallfoot, Venom
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213 z A Simple Favor, Bad Times at the El Royale, Christopher Robin, Crazy Rich Asians, First Man, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, Hell Fest, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, The Meg, Night School, The Nun, The Predator, Smallfoot, Venom
Violet Crown Cinema 200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000 z A Simple Favor, Bad Times at the El Royale, BlacKkKlansman, Blaze, Crazy Rich Asians, Fahrenheit 11/9, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, Night School, Smallfoot, Venom, We the Animals