The fall of one star and the birth of an­other

The Star Democrat - - LOCAL - By GREG MAKI gmaki@star­ Rated R for lan­guage through­out, some sex­u­al­ity/nu­dity and sub­stance abuse. 136 min­utes.

“A Star is Born” tells the story of two stars — one on the way up, the other on the way down.

The fall­ing star is coun­try rocker Jack­son Maine (Bradley Cooper), just barely hold­ing it to­gether on tour as he spi­rals deeper into ad­dic­tion. His quest for a drink finds him stum­bling into a drag bar on karaoke night, where he’s trans­fixed by Ally (Lady Gaga), the only fe­male per­mit­ted to per­form, as she de­liv­ers a vampy ren­di­tion of “La Vie en Rose.”

Af­ter a night of bond­ing over drinks, song­writ­ing and bar fights, Jack­son in­vites Ally to the next day’s show, where he shocks her by clos­ing with one of her songs — an emo­tional balled called “Shal­low.” Ter­ri­fied at first, she re­luc­tantly joins him for a duet. And as the crowd goes wild, we see a tor­rent of emo­tions wash over her face — from trep­i­da­tion to ela­tion to some­thing deeper

— love? — when she looks into Jack­son’s eyes.

There may not be a bet­ter movie mo­ment all year, and it comes from a first­time di­rec­tor (Cooper) and fea­tures one of the big­gest pop stars in the world (Lady Gaga). I’d call that bor­der­line mirac­u­lous.

YouTube clips of the per­for­mance go vi­ral, and Ally quickly finds her­self in a record­ing stu­dio, on “Satur­day Night Live,” at the Gram­mys. As her star rises ever higher, Jack­son suc­cumbs more and more to his demons — which stem largely from the deaths of his par­ents, his mother in child­birth, his father when he was 13.

Cooper, who’s racked up three Os­car nom­i­na­tions in front of the cam­era, proves to be a nat­u­ral be­hind it, as well. The first half of the movie in par­tic­u­lar — when Ally sees her life­long dreams be­come at­tain­able and Jack­son feeds off that to re­gain a spark of life that’s been miss­ing for who knows how long — siz­zles with en­ergy, pas­sion and en­thu­si­asm.

Cooper’s best de­ci­sion was cast­ing Lady Gaga and him­self as the leads. The chem­istry be­tween Ally and Jack­son is the movie, es­sen­tially, and the ac­tors de­liver all you could want on that front. It’s hard to re­mem­ber the last on­screen pair­ing that gen­er­ated as many sparks as this one.

Lady Gaga, who’s done some act­ing in the past, most promi­nently on TV’s “Amer­i­can Hor­ror Story,” has re­ceived much of the movie’s praise — de­servedly so; her lay­ered, nu­anced per­for­mance is a rev­e­la­tion. Cooper, how­ever, is just as im­pres­sive. With his puffy face and scrag­gly beard, Jack­son looks like a man who lives by the bot­tle. Yet even as the bot­tle and the pills take over, Cooper avoids cliches and con­tin­ues to probe the depths of this in­di­vid­ual who’s never been able to rec­on­cile the im­age of the star given to the pub­lic with the pain of his past. (Credit is due here, too, to the screen­play by Eric Roth, Cooper and Will Fet­ters.) That past also in­cludes a com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with his much older brother (Sam El­liott, do­ing his best work in years).

This is the fourth time this story has been told on the big screen, fol­low­ing the orig­i­nal in 1937 and re­makes in 1954 and 1976. But far from be­ing a rehash, it feels ur­gent, nec­es­sary even, to re­visit it now when seem­ingly any­body can be­come fa­mous for any­thing. “A Star is Born” rec­og­nizes and ex­plores — in glo­ri­ous fash­ion — the cycli­cal na­ture of fame and, more im­por­tantly, life.

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