Going by the calendar, we were actually twenty years overdue for a remake of A Star is Born before Bradley Cooper decided to take a crack at it. After the 1937 original with Janet Gaynor (which, itself, ripped off 1932’s What Price Hollywood), the 1954 version starring Judy Garland, and the 1976 re-do with Barbra Streisand, we finally get to revisit (again) the tale-as-old-as-time story of a star discovering a plucky ingenue, only to watch her star rise as his falls.

And if you think to yourself there’s no way you can tell the same story five times and still have the fifth one be utterly captivating, incredibly crafted, and, heck, downright fantastic, well… you would be so, so wrong.

As excellent as any film in recent memory, A Star is Born will suck you in, lift you up, and break your heart, reminding you how a movie can make you stand and applaud through your tears.

Credit Cooper for not only deciding to tackle the well-worn story but for also making it his way. Starring as Jackson Maine, a rough-and-tumble rocker hooked on booze and pills, Cooper completely dissolves into the role. Growing a beard, letting his hair grow, and adopting a southern snarl (and, heck, even learning to sing) was the easy part. What was more difficult was making Jackson a believable everyman of a character and then, as an actor, stepping aside to let Lady Gaga run away with the movie.

Gaga (born Stephanie Germanotta) is Ally, a struggling singer relegated to a crooning at a drag joint and waitressing on the side. When Jackson wanders into the bar one night, he’s instantly taken with her talent (and rightly so) and sets out to make her a star. Within a few days he yanks her up on stage with him, and just like that, well—a star is born.

The more popular Ally gets (eventually performing on Saturday Night Live and earning a couple Grammy nods), the more Jackson spirals into a addiction-filled hole. Cooper and Gaga take every advantage of their characters’ disparate career paths and turn in two of the more intense and powerful performances of the year. And they’re backed up by a superb supporting cast, including a surprising Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s dad, Dave Chappelle as Jackson’s long-time buddy, and the scene-stealing Sam Elliott as Jackson’s fed-up brother.

Cooper, who also co-wrote the script and many of the songs (and also co-produced the film), does a smash-up job in his directorial debut. With the help of his Oscar-nominated cinematographer Matthew Libatique (Black Swan), he crafts an intimate film—with hand-held, over-the-shoulder shots that bring us right into the moment. And it all culminates with a brilliant single-shot closing scene that (no spoilers!) provides the perfect rip-your-heart-out conclusion to one of the best films of the year.

It’s certainly possible that yet another re-make of A Star is Born will find its way into theaters sometime in the future (in, say… 2040 maybe?), but it might well be a futile gesture. It’s hard to envision a re-telling that could ever be as perfect as this one.


5/5 stars