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A classic story gets new life in Bradley Cooper’s “A Star is Born”

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga electrify in "A Star is Born" (Photo Courtesy of NPR.org).

Josh Rittberg

Arts and Culture Editor

Alex Bershtein 

Staff Writer

International Education Week

Currently, Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born is the cinematic sensation causing theatres to fill up with with people and then emotion once the film starts going. The fourth and current adaption remake of A Star is Born marks the acting debut of Lady Gaga and directing debut of Bradley Cooper. While they are new to their respective fields, it is clear from their powerhouse performances that this won’t be the last we will see of these charismatic artists.

The film tells the story of a country star named Jackson Maine (Played by Cooper) and his complicated love affair with the rising star, Ally (Lady Gaga).  Jackson initially discovers Ally at a drag club, and is instantly smitten with her. Once he invites her on stage to sing a blissful power ballad, her whole life changes as she becomes an instant star. As her star power rises, his own career slowly dies.

This is the general conceit of all iterations of A Star is Born. By setting this version in modern times, Cooper manages to go even further than versions that have come before it. In our age of social media, Ally’s fast moving rise into stardom feels  more relevant than ever. While being relentlessly entertaining, the film also works as a thoughtful and relevant commentary on the state of today’s entertainment Industry.

With Ally’s fame also comes the challenge of staying true to herself. This conflict is seen vividly through her interactions with the slimy music manager, Raz (Rafi Gavron). Raz is constantly trying to sexualize Ally as an artist. Ally  just  wants to stay true to the art of songwriting that she loves. Gaga plays these moments with startling realism that packs even more of a punch.  Besides fame, the film also chronicles the issue of addiction hauntingly well. As Cooper’s character slips back and forth into alcoholism throughout, we see Jackson transform into a broken man who is sinking to the bottom without a way to get back up.

The heartbeat of the film is Gaga and Cooper’s resonant and wistful ballad together, “Shallows”. This song appears in the film when Ally first performs with Jackson where her journey begins. The lyrics in the song “I’m fallin in all the good times, I find myself longing for change.” These are beautiful lyrics on their own but they take an even greater life in the context of the story. The character of Jackson is longing for a change and escape out of his alcoholism.   Ally on the other hand, wants to break free from her exhausting restaurant job. They come together in the middle, and even when their paths diverge their love pushes through. Their love story is always in the center of the two lead performances, and is the pulsing heart of this breathtaking film.

Lady Gaga is a revelation in her feature film debut. Her breathtaking opening musical performance of the classic french torch song, “La Vie En Rose” is pure cinematic bliss. Her absolutely deliciously sultry vocals simply sizzle off the screen.  Gaga delivers a leading performance with the confidence and gravitas of the grandest Hollywood divas. Her performance is pure elegance. It compliments Cooper’s more rough around the edges Jackson incredibly well. She also demonstrates exceptional vulnerability in the characters early moments of frustration, as Ally longs to break free of her mundane life. As Ally gains notoriety throughout, Gaga channels the swagger that the audience knows and love from this beloved pop star.  The sensational performance shines a light on a new kind of stardom for the debuting actress.

This also carries through into each of her musical performances, which are certainly worth the price of admission alone. Cooper films her musical scenes with a raucous energy that are simply a feast for the eyes and ears. Along with strong chemistry with Cooper, she also displays heartwarming chemistry with Andrew Dice Clay as her father, Lorenzo. Lady Gaga is already a worldwide icon as she deserves to be, but with her wonderful performance here, Gaga may even see her own star power shine brighter than ever.

Bradley Cooper also puts in extremely strong work on and behind the camera in his filmmaking debut. Cooper completely transforms in his  performance as Jackson Maine, the broken country star with a heart of gold. Cooper in his early scenes makes Jackson extremely likable through his heartfelt interactions with Gaga’s Ally. This makes Jackson’s slow descent into alcoholism even more heart-wrenching. This film would not work without a strong romantic lead at its center, and Cooper delivers that in spades. He also proves himself to be a strong singer in his highly entertaining musical sequences.

While the film is intimate in nature, as a director, Cooper adds a cinematic flair that thrills throughout. His decision to film the concert sequences in real time adds a grittiness that is a rarity for the musical genre.  He also gets extremely stellar performances out of film veterans like Sam Elliot who plays Jackson’s brother, Bobby. Elliot creates a stern exterior for his character that slowly softens as he connects with Gaga’s Ally. Sam Elliot’s Bobby also serves as the voice of reason even as Jackson and Ally’s relationship crumbles.

The comedian Dave Chappelle  also puts in extremely strong work as Cooper’s friend, George. He is only in a couple scenes but Chappelle proves himself to be a fine dramatic actor with his role here. There is a multitude of ways audience can fall in love in this movie, whether it be the spectacle of songs the, the drama of the romance, or the gripping story with a tumult of thought provoking inquiries.

The film’s original songs and score which were written by various artists who include Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper themselves add much levity and atmosphere to this dark tale. Besides the film’s breakout song, “Shallows” some other standouts include Cooper’s wistful ballad “Maybe it’s Time” and Gaga’s toe tapping anthem, “Look What I Found”. The music alone specifically by Lady Gaga are worth the price of admission alone.   This is the fourth iteration of A Star is Born, but with Gaga’s grand powerhouse performance and the incredible storytelling, Cooper may have created the best version of this famous story yet.