The Movie Guru: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper heart and soul of new “A Star Is Born”
The Movie Guru
I was not prepared for Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born.”
Yes, there’s already awards-season buzz about Cooper and Lady Gaga’s performances, but sometimes buzz has nothing to do with whether or not the movie is actually any good. And the 1976 version of “A Star Is Born” is fine, really, sort of like an average episode of “E True Hollywood Story” with really great musical numbers. Knowing that, I foolishly assumed that this new version would come off much the same way.
I was so wrong. The new “A Star Is Born” elevates a somewhat sad story into genuinely heartbreaking tragedy, enriching and refining nearly every aspect. It’s both a modern psychological portrait and a timeless love story, with breathtaking performances that make it feel both epic and searingly intimate.
Anyone familiar with one of the three previous versions of “A Star Is Born” knows the basic arc of the story, but I won’t mention it here in case you don’t fall into that category. I will say that the movie starts with Cooper as a rocker with a cowboy edge, arenas full of screaming fans and massive, massive alcohol problems. Gaga is a server who sings at a drag club sometimes and has massive self-esteem issues about her appearance. They meet by chance one night at a bar, and start a journey together that changes both of their lives.
Naturally, the movie’s perspective has been modernized since the 1976 version, particularly in its views on alcohol and depression and its portrayal of the current music scene. Cooper’s character has a style that you just don’t see now on performers younger than about 60, if you see it at all, and Gaga’s character has all the dance moves and costume changes we’ve come to expect from our female celebrities.
But none of that is the real reason to watch this movie. Cooper and Gaga are the heart and soul of the new “A Star Is Born,” bringing their characters to life with such nuanced, gut-wrenching realness it’s hard not to fall in love with them. They’re two damaged souls who both speak best through their music, who both manage to be a beauty and a beast at the same time. Somehow, impossibly, manage to find each other, and Cooper and Gaga make their moment of connection and growing bond feel utterly real.
It helps that Cooper and fellow screenwriters Eric Roth and Will Fetters have imbued the movie with both greater emotional depth and some much-needed realism. Gaga’s struggling weekend performer who lives with her father feels utterly believable, and Cooper struggles against demons that are much more nuanced than addiction and a career on the way down. The extra depth given to the relationship between Cooper’s character and his manager, played with masterful subtlety by Sam Elliott, adds to the richness as well.
Days later, I’m still haunted by the movie. “A Star Is Born” may have made it to the big screen more than once over the years, but only with this new version has it finally become timeless.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at email@example.com.