A special compliment one can pay to the 2018 “A Star is Born” is that it stands solidly on its own as if there were no previous versions. Enhanced by the charisma of its stars, the film bears no signs of a remake. Yes, those who have seen previous incarnations cannot help but reference the past films. But stripped of history, this “A Star Is Born” seems totally fresh.
I have seen three previous versions: the 1937 original starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March; the 1954 one teaming Judy Garland and James Mason; the 1976 remake starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Now we have Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, with Cooper also directing and co-author of the screenplay with Eric Roth and Will Fetters. The writing credits are also “based on” previous screenplays.
The plot, although similar to the past films, seems very current in its contemporary setting. Cooper plays Jack, a famous country rock star with a weakness for alcohol and drugs. Lady Gaga is Ally, a straight gal whom Jack discovers when watching her perform in a drag bar. Smitten by her naturalness and impressed with her song-writing ability, he encourages her to perform and create. being true to herself, and takes her on the road with him.
Rez, a manipulative manager whom she eventually acquires, played by Rafi Gavron, hones her into a glitzy image. While she becomes a dynamic composer and performer who wins a Grammy, Jack tragically descends into his addictions, and after rehab, decides he must make way for Ally to flourish on her own after Rez, without Ally’s knowledge, convinces him that he stands in her way.
What mainly makes the film work is the charisma of its stars. The camera loves Lady Gaga, who demonstrates her acting skills as well as her singing power. Her eyes look seductively right at us, and she proves a larger than life force on screen.
Cooper, as well as showing once more what a fine actor he is, also is adored by the camera. He too looks at us with piercing eyes, and he radiates charm as Jack romantically woos and wins Ally. Together these stars ignite the film and make one believe the story as it spins toward triumph and tragedy.
Credit another good performance by Sam Elliott as Bobby, Jack’s older brother, who raised him after the death of their father and has guided his career despite ups and downs in their relationship. A well-chosen supporting cast fleshes out the film, which also explodes in the rock concert scenes of mass adulation. Cooper proves that he has skill as a director that complements his acting prowess.
There are portions of the film that slow a bit, but that’s nothing serious. The film is primarily dynamic, with enough reality to produce some inevitable audience emotions. And, of course, there is the collection of songs, with Cooper showing skills in his singing, and Lady Gaga doing what we have come to expect from her as a colorful singer who consistently dazzles, as in her duets with Tony Bennett.
This 2018 “A Star is Born” emerges as one of the important films of the year and obviously an award contender for its stars and as a film. A Warner Bros. release. Reviewed October 8, 2018.