Movie review: Bradley Cooper makes impressive directing debut in raw, relevant 'Star is Born'

  • Rock star Jackson Maine (director Bradley Cooper) finds a singing soul mate named Ally (Lady Gaga) in the third remake of "A Star is Born."

    Rock star Jackson Maine (director Bradley Cooper) finds a singing soul mate named Ally (Lady Gaga) in the third remake of "A Star is Born." Courtesy of Warner Bros.

 
 
Updated 10/3/2018 11:25 AM

"A Star is Born" - ★ ★ ★ ★

We first see Bradley Cooper as sun-fried, literally red-necked rock 'n' roll superstar Jackson Maine performing before a stadium teeming with screaming fans. He commands the screen in sharp focused clarity.

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Later, wowed by the singing chops of Lady Gaga's Ally, a shy songwriter he meets at a drag show, Jackson invites her to join him on stage.

Slowly, Jackson fades into a blurry background as Ally comes into focus. As Jackson watches her, a huge video screen image of Ally looms over the stage, dwarfing him.

This subtle, clever bit of foreshadowing tips us off that we are in the hands of a confident, perhaps even visionary new director, Cooper himself, who has taken the stodgy old Hollywood chestnut, "A Star is Born," and given it a new soap-operatic life and gritty, R-rated relevance.

This marks the third remake of "A Star is Born" and first to capture the attractively realistic essence of a complex, complicated and conflicted relationship between married performers, a man whose career slowly implodes as his wife's star rises to supernova heights.

How fitting that the lyrics to Jackson's signature song, "Maybe it's time to let the old ways die," feel like the nostalgic lament from an artist on the decline, rather than the optimistic challenge of new talent he undoubtedly was when he first sang it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In an efficient series of shots, we see how Cooper's hard-drinking rocker fuels up on liquor before, after and during his concerts.

Needing a drink one night, he directs his driver to stop off at the nearest bar, which turns out to be a drag queen mecca where he spots Ally, made up to look like a man made up to look like a woman. (Holy shades of Julie Andrews' "Victor/Victoria"!)

Their instant, blossoming attraction becomes a palpable, incendiary vibe shared by the raw charisma between Lady Gaga and Cooper.

As an actor, Cooper wisely underplays Jackson as a woobly lush in cowboy boots, a Southern-drawling, gravel-voiced crooner who admits he stole his signature sound from his older brother Bobby (the iconic Sam Elliott), the road manager who's angrily tired of cleaning up Jackson's messes for many years.

In "A Star is Born," Bradley Cooper plays a rock star in decline as his new wife (Lady Gaga) finds success in "A Star is Born."
In "A Star is Born," Bradley Cooper plays a rock star in decline as his new wife (Lady Gaga) finds success in "A Star is Born." - Courtesy of Warner Bros.

In most Hollywood movies, the main characters seldom have family members or more than a single reflective friend.

Jackson's parents are gone, but Ally's got a real character of a dad played by Andrew Dice Clay. (Yes, the gross, immensely popular, 1980s potty-mouthed stand-up comic who starred in a few movies, most notably "The Adventures of Ford Fairlane.")

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Ally's single Italian dad -- who frequently mentions someone said he possessed better pipes than Frank Sinatra's -- vicariously lives through Ally's rise to stardom, amusingly reflecting Lady Gaga's own professional journey, including a guest stint on "Saturday Night Live."

In her first lead movie performance, Lady Gaga supplies an astonishing work of transparent, transporting joy, a frayed electrical wire of emotion with the voice of an earthy angel.

She complements Cooper's sexy, sensitive, pugnacious and powerful "Star is Born," one that pays tribute to George Cukor's popular 1954 version in which James Mason's drunken actor infamously strikes his wife (Judy Garland) in the face during an Oscar acceptance speech.

Here, the Grammys set the stage for a different form of self-induced public humiliation, one as shocking and as authentic as the rest of Cooper's bold and moving directorial debut.

• • •

Starring: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay

Directed by: Bradley Cooper

Other: A Warner Bros. release. Rated R for substance abuse, language, nudity, sexual situations. 135 minutes

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