It’s im­pos­si­ble not to fall in love with the stars of ‘A Star Is Born’

Cecil Whig - - ACCENT - By KATIE WALSH

With pop su­per­star Lady Gaga as his muse, leg­endary cin­e­matog­ra­pher Matthew Li­ba­tique be­hind the cam­era, and a well-worn, beloved Hol­ly­wood fa­ble to work with, the cards are stacked in fa­vor of star/co-writer/di­rec­tor Bradley Cooper for his di­rec­to­rial de­but, “A Star is Born.” And yet, his film is frankly star­tling in how as­sured, art­ful and emo­tion­ally authen­tic it is. This is finely-tuned pre­ci­sion film­mak­ing — gen­uine artistry on dis­play in a huge, pres­tige stu­dio movie. It’s a block­buster ro­mance that looks and feels like an indie film, all in ser­vice of an ex­pres­sion of pure love.

In a phys­i­cally and vo­cally trans­formed per­for­mance, Cooper stars as coun­try rocker Jack­son Maine, with an Ari­zona ori­gin story right out of an epic western melo­drama. His ears ring­ing from chronic tin­ni­tus, and at the bot­tom of his bot­tle after a show, he stum­bles into a drag bar for a drink and en­coun­ters Ally (Gaga). She’s singing an Edith Piaf num­ber, with painted hair and stick-on eye­brows. Sprawled on the bar, she locks eyes with Jack­son, and with us, and in­stantly both he and we have fallen for the imp­ish singer. After a few rounds in a cop bar, a fist­fight and an im­promptu in­ti­mate song­writ­ing ses­sion in a su­per­mar­ket park­ing lot, she’s fallen too.

Fun­da­men­tally, “A Star is Born” is a movie about love — love that shines in the best of times, per­sists in the worst — but truly, it is about fall­ing in love with Ally’s face. The mo­ment that’s been in ev­ery ver­sion of the movie, where Jack­son says he “just wants to take an­other look” at her, is the the­sis, the spine around which the story ro­tates. The cam­era re­flects the love for Ally’s Ro­man nose Jack­son pro­fesses, fol­low­ing her pro­file as she looks up, to­ward the fu­ture and the stars, while Jack­son looks down, rue­fully re­flect­ing on his past. He squints, grins and hides un­der his hat, but can barely con­tain his de­light in Ally, in her tal­ent, her voice, and yes, her nose.

It’s im­pos­si­ble not to fall in love with the stars of “A Star is Born,” but there’s so much more to love too. The sup­port­ing cast is dy­na­mite, from An­thony Ramos as Ally’s best friend to Sam El­liott do­ing ca­reer-best work as Jack­son’s older brother and em­bat­tled tour man­ager, Bobby. For­mer bad-boy stand-up comic An­drew Dice Clay turns in an un­com­monly sen­si­tive per­for­mance as Ally’s fa­ther, a for­mer crooner him­self.

With an as­sist from the Lukas Nel­son Band, who serve as Jack­son’s on-screen band, “A Star is Born” is a foot­stomp­ing barn burner of a mu­sic movie. The live sets are elec­tri­fy­ing, es­pe­cially the first scene where Jack­son pulls Ally on stage to sing the ditty they wrote, which is as hair-rais­ing and goose-bump­ing as it gets.

Gaga demon­strates a re­mark­able fa­cil­ity for act­ing while singing: In her first bel­ter of a song on­stage, she pro­gresses from ter­ror to sur­prise at her own vo­cal power. The live scenes are a phys­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, the weight and heft of the mu­sic over­tak­ing your senses, a stark sen­sor y jux­ta­po­si­tion to the hol­low pop songs she per­forms as her solo ca­reer takes off.

Gaga’s su­per­star sta­tus falls away as she em­bod­ies this girl­ish, unas­sum­ing and forth­right young wo­man. She’s in­no­cent but tough, a bit wary. Ul­ti­mately, she’s a dreamer swept away by this older star, and Cooper care­fully cal­cu­lates that the au­di­ence fall in love with Ally in the way Jack­son does.

As her star rises, Jack­son con­stantly re­minds her be­ing a singer/song­writer is about what you have to say as much as the way you say it, when you have an au­di­ence will­ing to lis­ten. Cooper knows he has an au­di­ence will­ing to lis­ten, and what he says is so beau­ti­fully, pow­er­fully open-hearted, vul­ner­a­ble and lov­ing it’s over­whelm­ing. A star has in­deed been born: Bradley Cooper as au­teur, who takes his chance to say what he wants to say and sim­ply knocks it out of the park. ———

‘A Star Is Born’

4 stars

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam El­liott, An­drew Dice Clay, An­thony Ramos.

Di­rected by Bradley Cooper.

Run­ning time: 2 hours, 15 min­utes.

Rated R for lan­guage through­out, some sex­u­al­ity/ nu­dity and sub­stance abuse.


This im­age re­leased by Warner Bros. Pic­tures shows Lady Gaga, left, and Bradley Cooper in a scene from “A Star is Born.”

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