Wednesday 20 February 2019

A Star is Born review: 'Beautifully written, directed, shot, performed, edited, and scored - sensational'

5 stars

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in 'A Star Is Born'
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in 'A Star Is Born'

Chris Wasser

I must admit, I laughed when I heard that Bradley Cooper was going to remake A Star is Born. Not because it hadn’t been done before, mind. In fact, Cooper’s film is the third remake of the 1937 classic, with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March.

Everyone loved the Judy Garland one in ’54. Some of us are still unsure about what to make of the creaky ’76 version (the one with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson). But the story hasn’t been touched since. We were probably due another round.

The reason I chuckled was because Cooper, the movie star, had never sat in a director’s chair before — and there he was, taking on one of the most famous screen tales of them all for his directorial debut. And, he was going to star in it, co-write and co-produce the thing, too. Brave man.

It helps, of course, that the story — that of a troubled superstar falling for and, subsequently, mentoring, a younger talent, whose career goes on to eclipse that of her lover’s — responds reasonably well to a makeover. It is timeless. It is tragic. It is astonishing to discover that Cooper has only gone and knocked the bleedin’ thing out of the park.

Here we have a film that is as accomplished as they come; a muscular, note-perfect, old-fashioned, cinematic event that longs to be experienced on the big screen — preferably, one with a stellar sound system.

Cooper may have reorganised the furniture slightly, but the story continues to follow a familiar route, with our leading man tipping his weathered cowboy hat to the Streisand effort (the first to swap the original Hollywood theme with a rock and pop setting).

Jackson Maine (Cooper) is the troubled, veteran country rocker, whose audiences continue to flock, but whose struggle with addiction and depression has begun to take its toll. He’s also starting to lose his hearing.

One night, after a show, a drunken Jackson asks his driver to find him a boozer in the city. Stumbling upon a drag bar, Jackson orders a gin, pulls up a stool and watches as the club’s guest singer, Ally (Lady Gaga), delivers a phenomenal rendition of La Vie en Rose. Our boy is smitten. They meet, they chat, they swap lyrics — you know where this is going.

The following day, Jackson sends a car to Ally’s house. He wants her at his show. Her dad (a wonderful Andrew Dice Clay) is ecstatic. Ally is a tad more cautious. But we all know she is going to accept the invite. She is going to perform with Jackson, and she is going to be a sensation (the clue is in the title).

So begins a love story to end all love stories. One career takes a tumble; the other soars. As a result, the relationship suffers. If I’ve said too much, you probably haven’t seen the originals. If I’ve said too little, you’d be doing well to remember to bring tissues.

What matters is that Cooper’s blistering, gut-wrenching offering is an out-and-out triumph. It digs deeper than previous entries. It takes its time with the central relationship. It works hard, basically, to earn our trust and, indeed, our praise. It’s also fabulous to look at.

A beguiling and, occasionally, devastating, melodrama with a heart, A Star is Born is about as perfect a film as you’re likely to see this, or any other, year. It’s moving, but never mawkish; funny, but never cocky; romantic, but never too far-fetched.

A multitasking Cooper is in the form of his life — in front of, and behind, the camera. The voice is superb. The attention to detail, extraordinary (Jackson genuinely looks like a man who starts his day with a shot of bourbon). That the all-important musical numbers — each one better than the last — were performed live, on camera, only adds to the authenticity.

Meanwhile, Sam Elliott will break your heart as Jackson’s wiser, older brother and manager, Bobby. Dave Chappelle (above) leaves a mark as Jackson’s worried best mate, Noodles. But this film belongs to Lady Gaga, whose rich and remarkably versatile turn as Ally, is a revelation.

It’s her first leading role, and my goodness, it’s a fabulous one — raw, emotional, truthful and, whenever she opens her mouth to sing, breathtaking. There will be Oscars. Oh, and the Cooper/Gaga chemistry is off the charts.

Beautifully written, directed, shot, performed, edited, and scored, A Star is Born deserves everything good that comes its way. In a word? Sensational.

Read Paul Whitington's review: A Star is Born review: Lady Gaga proves she was Born to act in Bradley Cooper's terrific remake

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