The fall of one star and the birth of another
“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.