A Star Is Born movie review: Born this way (or, a bad romance)

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
Birth of a movie star and directing star too.

There’s a reason they keep making A Star is Born. As long as you tell this story, you’re going to have a good movie. This is not my favorite A Star is Born (that would belong to Barbra) but it’s definitely in my top three Star is Borns.

At first I thought co-writer and director Bradley Cooper hadn’t changed too much, which is fine. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Then I realized some of the updates were so subtle I almost missed them.

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga make music together.

Since it’s still set in the music world, the big change was made in the ’76 version when it became a story of music stars instead of movie stars. Cooper’s A Star is Born adds a few colors of modern celebrity.

People want to take Jack Maine (Cooper)’s picture with their cell phone cameras, and Ally (Lady Gaga)’s first performance with Jack gets lots of views on YouTube.

A Star Is Born
A Star Is Born classically blends hope and tragedy.

Those don’t alter the story though. It’s still the story of an aged performer finding some inspiration from a new talent, mentoring her but ultimately proving self-destructive, and destructive to her.

There is an added subplot making Bobby (Sam Elliott) Jack’s brother. It adds another familial relationship for Jack to destroy (and hopefully repair). It doesn’t change the outcome of the story, but it provides contrast with Ally’s loving, supportive family.

Bradley Cooper and Sam Elliott
Jack (Bradley Cooper) and Bobby (Sam Elliott) had to raise each other.

Bobby may be a bit more of a tough love kind of brother, but the difference is between Ally and Jack. Jack can’t love himself so he can’t accept Bobby’s love of any kind. Ally had that support growing up so she can.

Andrew Dice Clay and Lady Gaga
The Diceman is a supportive father and he’s unbelievable, oh!

The attempt to make the dialogue naturalistic, with overlapping and interrupting, is successful. It feels natural, and when the crowd does shut up for a pivotal line, that line really lands. See Cooper’s delivery of, “I just want to take another look at you.”

One theme that comes into greater focus in this adaptation is about what an artist has to say. That gives it a bit more of a mandate than just “get famous and try to hold it together.”

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
Jack (Bradley Cooper) always encourages Ally (Lady Gaga) to use her voice.

Perhaps Jack is even further gone than Kris Kristofferson was allowed to be in 1976. He’s not only an alcoholic and drug addict, but he’s got tinnitus so he’s on a ticking clock even if he gets sober.

He’s taking advantage of even more medicine, prescribed or otherwise, now available to users. His public spectacle is even more embarrassing than borne by previous stars. By the fifth remake he’ll have to poop his pants to escalate the downward spiral of the fallen artist.

A Star Is Born
While one star is born, another spirals out of control.

Cooper and Gaga have chemistry, and Matthew Libatique photographs them beautifully. It’s sensual when Jack touches Ally, gently tracing her face. Their romance is sexy and passionate.

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
A Star is Born and creates sparks with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.

What’s made A Star Is Born poignant to me in any iteration is its depiction of success and failure. The Jack character is always the source of his own downfall in any industry, under any name.

He’s not a faded star. He’s still selling out arenas. Substance abuse hurts his ability to perform up to his own abilities, and it’s a crutch he uses to cope with his own insecurities.

Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga is the star in A Star is Born

Ally is never trying to All About Eve her mentor in any iteration. She wants them both to be successful, but one of the realities of life is not everyone can keep up with you forever. Sometimes you have to accept they were meant for one part of your life, but not the whole thing.

A Star is Born does a good job retelling a classic tale for modern audiences. It’s such a timeless tale, everyone will probably have their own favorite Star is Born that speaks most to them, and I bet they’ll never stop telling this story.

A Star is Born opens Friday, October 5 in theaters.

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