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Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga are no strangers to having their names in lights, but in A Star Is Born, [Warner Bros./MGM; 135 minutes] their names explode in such magnitude that they light up the sky. Except for a few moments of homage, it would be theatrically incorrect to call the just released A Star Is Born an updated remake of its three predecessors with the same title. Four-time Oscar nominee Cooper, as director, co-writer, and co-producer, has created a Star that won’t eclipse the powerful 1937 dramatic original or 1954 musical remake but which becomes a cinema legend of its own. In fact, it’s poised to become an instant classic. As far as the edgy 1976 box office blockbuster musical remake with the same title – the verdict is still out.
In this 90% original take, written with Oscar winner Eric Roth [Forrest Gump, The Insider, Ali], Grammy-winning Oscar-nominee [Best Song] Gaga as Ally says, “Almost every single person I’ve come in contact with in the music industry has told me that my nose is too big and I won’t make it.” During the 10 years she studied acting and auditioned for theater, film, and TV, she said she heard similar and much worse. In 2008, with her debut Platinum plus-selling album Fame, we saw star potential. It was just the tip of the iceberg.
Many didn’t take her seriously because of her attention-getting antics. As a megaselling recording artist [31 million albums and a multitude of hit singles], she popped up in cameo and guest roles, but it wasn’t until the 2015 Oscars when she stunned with a mesmerizing soprano rendition of a medley of tunes for the 50th Anniversary Sound of Music salute that the masses took notice [during the 20-second standing ovation, with her tattooed arms outstretched, among those avidly applauding was none other than Cooper]. Her fan base quintupled with her Golden Globe-winning casting as the Countess that year on American Horror Story/Hotel, channeling a host of notorious film fatales and aided by extravagant costumes, platinum blonde hair, and glam make-up] that finally the public met Gaga the actress.
Cooper, making his directorial debut, envisioned the film with Gaga as co-star. It’s fascinating watching as they prop each other up. The romance begins a bit too soon and rushes toward the inevitable pledging of troths. In love, in performance, and at war their chemistry is solid. It’s the oft-told story of two who fall in love not so much with each other but with each other’s talent. As one up and comer bursts on the scene like a megastar, jealousy rises its ugly head and the megastar fades into a black hole.
Gaga gives a shattering performance as Ally, a singer struggling to break into the big time but who’s given up after so many defeats. She finds it hard to believe that at last someone believes in her. Enter rock legend Jackson Maine, Cooper in another brilliant performance. Reckless boozing, cocaine, and a devastating secret that would ruin his career have him on a destructive path. It’s a performance so vividly etched that it will be long remembered.
With her Star accolades and the inevitable nominations to be heaped on both stars during awards season, Gaga can close the book on her period of dresses fashioned with meat and outrageous shenanigans and can start a new one – coffee-table size. Singing or dancing or acting, she’s a force to be reckoned with. There were big shoes to fill, and quite smartly she pays homage to Judy Garland, star and co-producer of the ’54 film, with an “Easter Egg” hum of “Over the Rainbow.” It was also her idea to pay homage to her idol Edith Piaf, with her standout rendition of “La Vie En Rose.” Another “Easter Egg” is Gaga/Cooper’s bubble bath ala Streisand/Kristofferson’s in the ’76 Star – minus candles burning on beer cans. Gaga pays tribute to her legend of gay fans by singing, as she did early on, in a drag bar – where Jackson wanders in [only in search of a drink, though he ends up signing autographs in unusual and very personal places].
The burden of Cooper’s own demons as a recovering drug and alcohol abuser is obvious as he bares his soul singing in sequences filmed live at music festivals. To prepare, he studied with a voice instructor and learned to play the guitar well enough so he would never get booted offstage. Gaga bares more than her soul in a flash of nudity from her solo bubble bath.
Cooper surrounded himself and Gaga with an equally impressive ensemble cast: Sam Elliott, as Jackson’s caretaking brother; Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s father; comic Dave Chappelle as a trusted old friend; and Rafi Gavron as the manager who steers Ally toward stardom and an independence that affects her marriage.
The stars are immensely complemented by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who helps push the music sequences and raw emotion with HD close-ups [you won’t soon forget the last image of Gaga]; and two-time Oscar-nominated editor Jay Cassidy. Songs are by Cooper, Gaga, and Lukas Nelson, son of Willie, who also performs with his band.
To enjoy the huge impact in store, the only way to see A Star Is Born is at a huge-screened cineplex with surround or Dolby sound.
A Star Is Born is also co-written by Will Fetters. It’s produced by Cooper, Bill Gerber, the controversial Jon Peters [due to rights he held for the ’76 Star], Todd Phillips, and Lynette Howell Taylor.
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