Bradley Cooper goes Gaga in di­rect­ing de­but

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Phillips Chicago Tribune

No­body ever lost money re­mak­ing “A Star is Born,” Hol­ly­wood’s fa­vorite tragic ro­man­tic fa­ble. Whether it’s any good doesn’t mat­ter. To wit: The 1976 Bar­bra Streisand/Kris Kristof­fer­son re­make wasn’t good, but you be­lieved the ar­che­typal show busi­ness lovers had mu­si­cal tal­ent.

The new “Star is Born” with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper is more like it. The toast of the 2018 fes­ti­val cir­cuit, this strin­gently apo­lit­i­cal, shame­lessly effective pathos ma­chine does the job in fa­mil­iar ways that work like a tearstained charm.

The de­but­ing fea­ture direc­tor as well as cowriter and co-star, Cooper is very much a real direc­tor, with a gen­uine fa­cil­ity with film­ing mu­si­cal num­bers. We be­lieve in the char­ac­ters’ tal­ents and spend time soak­ing them up with­out a lot of ner­vous, over­com­pen­sat­ing edit­ing. Be­tween songs, he and Gaga make even the bluntest cliches about love and ca­reer and mis­ery minty-fresh, all over again.

Cooper trained for months to lower his nat­u­ral speak­ing voice a full oc­tave, so that he plau­si­bly sounds like Sam El­liott’s brother. (His guardianan­gel brother, a per­former once upon a time, is played by, yes, Sam El­liott.) Cooper’s Jack­son Maine is a roots-rock singer-song­writer bat­tling chem­i­cal demons and a rest­less empti­ness in­side.

The ac­tor-direc­tor has said in in­ter­views that he wanted to avoid turn­ing his ver­sion of “A Star is Born” into a tale of petty ca­reer jeal­ousy — the es­tab­lished star giv­ing in to a bit­ter, de­struc­tive envy of the newer star’s rise. Smart move. MPAA rat­ing: R (for lan­guage through­out, some sex­u­al­ity/nu­dity and sub­stance abuse) Run­ning time: 2 hours, 15 min­utes

We first meet Jack­son on tour, when he thinks he has his hear­ing loss, al­co­hol in­take and pill-pop­ping rel­a­tively un­der con­trol. A wait­ress with that cer­tain special some­thing en­ters his wob­bly or­bit soon enough. Two bars into Ally’s drag-bar ren­di­tion of “La Vie En Rose” and the great man is hooked. Barely 15 min­utes into “A Star is Born,” the star is, in fact, al­ready born, once Maine coaxes a re­luc­tant Ally on stage at one of his con­certs.

In deft, short­hand sto­ry­telling strokes, the script by Cooper and Eric Roth, re­work­ing Will Fet­ters’ ear­lier ver­sion, sweeps us straight into the story’s in­evitable river of courtship, late-night duets, mar­riage, ex­ces­sive drink­ing on his end, weary an­tic­i­pa­tion of worse to come on hers.

Although set in the present day, “A Star is Born” doesn’t quite make Ally a fully con­tem­po­rary­seem­ing char­ac­ter. Gaga’s easy, offhanded com­mand of the screen matches up well with Cooper’s sin­cere, straight-ahead por­trayal of a de­cent man un­der­min­ing his own tal­ent. (The scene where Jack­son, in a drunken stu­por, calls his wife “ugly” is prop­erly harsh, but it also makes Ally seem like a sap for stick­ing with him. I guess I’m judge-y that way.) Ally gets too few chances to re­ally speak her piece, or com­pli­cate the script’s de­pic­tion of the hero­ine as a noble, long­suf­fer­ing care­taker of a wreck.

On the other hand, it’s juicy melo­drama played with real feel­ing. No­body goes to any ver­sion of “A Star is Born” for crush­ing re­al­ism, or nu­ance. You go for the heart­felt vo­cals, and the nose-to-nose ver­bal al­ter­ca­tions be­tween Gaga and Cooper, or be­tween Cooper and El­liott.

Late in the game, El­liott says: “It’s the same story, told over and over.” His char­ac­ter is talk­ing about song­writ­ers and the fi­nite num­ber of notes they have at their dis­posal. But he may as well be speak­ing of “A Star is Born,” the love story, fa­tal­is­tic yet tasty, that keeps com­ing back like a song. Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.


Roots rocker Jack­son Maine (Bradley Cooper) duets with new­comer Ally (Lady Gaga) in the lat­est “A Star is Born.”

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