A Star Is Born ***

It’s a good remake, and has multiple options that could contend for the Best Song Oscar.  

Is it worth $10? Yes  

There are moments in “A Star Is Born” that give you goose bumps – Lady Gaga belting out a powerful solo, the tender and frail love story on display, the emotional climax that resonates with warmth and beauty. With Gaga starring opposite Bradley Cooper as the leads, it’s easy to see why the film has such pre-release buzz, why it has been dubbed an Oscar contender by some, and why it is considered the best version of this story by others (more on this later).

Those eager to tout its greatness may want to slow down a bit, but the film is undeniably good, especially the chemistry between Gaga and Cooper, and the real emotional stakes that comprise their characters’ relationship. He plays Jackson Maine, a burned out country music star with a crippling drug and alcohol addiction. She’s Ally, a waitress and aspiring singer yet to be discovered. One night after a show, in a bar, he sees her singing “La Vie En Rose” in French and is immediately transfixed, mesmerized by her voice and beauty. As they spend time together they fall in love, and she becomes a star while his stardom fades.

This is the fourth interpretation of “A Star Is Born,” and not the best, though it is a worthy addition to the canon. All of the previous versions were good movies as well: The 1937 original starred Oscar winners Janet Gaynor and Frederic March; in 1954 it became a musical with an Oscar-worthy Judy Garland and James Mason; and in 1976 Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson brought the story to the big screen. The Garland version is the best because of its songs and Garland’s notably impressive performance.

The Gaga/Cooper version isn’t far behind Garland’s, but you can tell Gaga is a singer first and actor second, and you can tell Cooper is an actor first and singer second. With Streisand and Garland, no such distinction could be made. What’s great about Gaga’s Ally, though, is how strong she is. Yes she’s in love with a flawed man, but she largely stays true to her convictions and writes and performs her own songs even as her publicity-seeking manager (Rafi Gavron) tries to globalize her appeal.

And wow, what songs Gaga, Cooper (who also directs) and songwriter Lukas Nelson (Willie’s son) give us. “Shallow” is the song from the trailer that’s gotten people excited, “Always Remember Us This Way” is well done, and I’ll Never Love Again” from the finale is a real tearjerker. Expect at least one, if not all, of the above to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Song.

Gaga and Cooper are buoyed by a strong supporting cast that includes Sam Elliott as Jackson’s older brother, Dave Chappelle as Jackson’s old friend, Anthony Ramos as Ally’s best friend, and Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s father, who insists he had a better voice than Sinatra. In addition to the rapport Gaga and Cooper share, exceptional ensemble work elevates the rest of the film.

It seems like musicals are becoming du jour once again: Two years ago it was “La La Land,” and last year it was “The Greatest Showman.” “A Star Is Born” does nothing to hurt that trend, and to be sure, if you like musicals or Gaga, you will not want to miss it.

Did you know?
Both Kristofferson and Streisand visited the set during production, though on different days.

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