I could give you a million reasons to check out Bradley Cooper's remarkable directorial debut, but the simple truth is that there is one that has stood out above all other reasons and it's one that I've not been able to shake, emotionally or physically, since laying my eyes on this extraordinary remake of A Star is Born - Lady Gaga gives one of the greatest break-out performances in recent years, a performance so charismatic and convincing and so richly authentic and immersive that I'm not sure I'll ever forget it.
A Star is Born was just about everything I want my movie experience to be. I left the theater a changed human being, simultaneously entertained and emotionally altered in ways I don't even know how to describe. I was immersed in a world that I really know nothing about, yet somehow it felt like an extension of my own. My heart soared. My heart broke. Every fiber of my being felt every high note and every low note and seemingly every note in-between.
I love it when cinema changes me and A Star is Born changed me.
This is the fourth incarnation of this story, fifth if you include George Cukor's 1932 What Price Hollywood?, but somehow it feels like a motion picture all its own. It's not a perfect beast of a film and it ought not be, though it's about as perfect as this story and its archetypes could be realized without turning into a film that none of us would want to see.
You want to see this film.
It's astonishing to realize that this is Bradley Cooper's directorial debut, though certainly his star has shined brightly in recent years as the immensely talented, versatile actor has challenged himself to grow time and time again.
Here, he does it again.
He takes Lady Gaga along with him, though my gut feeling tells me that even Dennis Dugan couldn't dilute the brilliance that is Lady Gaga.
Lady Gaga is, of course, the singer-songwriter in ascension here, Cooper the fading mega-star who first shines a light on her then watches his own fade while hers continues to brighten.
It's an old story, a familiar one, but it feels fresh and alive and absolutely magnificent here.
Gaga manages to completely inhabit a role practically owned by Judy Garland, whose fluttering energy practically floated through Cukor's 1954 version of the film. While many of this generation will mostly vividly remember Barbra Streisand's less satisfying 1976 turn, the simple truth is it doesn't really matter now because the crown belongs to Lady Gaga now and likely for years to come.
Despite a two hour and fifteen minute running time, there's hardly a scene wasted in this A Star is Born, which may never completely replace the affection afforded the 1954 film but is undeniably a better and more complete cinematic experience across the board.
Cooper is Jackson Maine, a fortysomething bedraggled rock star of sorts who is still receiving the deafening applause when we meet him in the film, though there's not so subtle hints that he's on the downside of the mountain including a raging case of career-threatening tinnitus that he masks behind intimate inquiry and awkward silences. There's also that seemingly constant presence of liquor, a need that leads him post-concert into none other than a drag bar where he spies Ally (Lady Gaga) doing a nothing short of stunning version of Edith Piaf's "La Vie En Rose."
He's hooked. So are we.
The Ally that he meets is a curious mix of insecurity and self-absorption, but they click and it's real and it's honest and it's absolutely beautiful to watch unfold as one thing leads to another and before long we're believably watching Ally putting together "Shallow," an absolutely perfect ditty that also happens to be the first single released off the film's soundtrack.
You haven't heard it yet? You will.
You know the rest of the story. Ally's ascent to fame is rapid and relentless, Jackson's descent equally rapid and painful to watch even as he both supports and grows to resent Ally's surpassing of his own fame. It's in these scenes, especially, that Cooper really shines brightly. While he's gone through recovery in his own life, Cooper does a tremendous job of keeping Jackson from ever turning into some sort of maudlin, paint-by-number alcoholic. He's fully human here and that's mostly owing to Cooper's remarkably intuitive, fairly stunning performance.
Rafi Gavron is tremendous as Rez, Ally's manager who plays out as less svengali than previous versions of the character though a scene near the end threatens to derail it all until pulling things back together at just the right moment.
The rest of the ensemble cast is also terrific - Sam Elliott shines as Jackson's older brother, offering a turn that could very well end up being remembered come awards season. Dave Chapelle, yes that Dave Chapelle, gives the performance we've always believed him capable of giving as one of Jackson's childhood friends who shows up during one of Jackson's multiple stop-and-start bottoming out sessions.
There are others.
But, truthfully, A Star is Born belongs to Cooper and Gaga. Despite the demands of a directorial debut, Cooper may very well give his best performance to date and it should most definitely be remembered come awards season. Cooper immerses himself in Jackson like he's never really immersed himself in a character, surrendering to the highs and lows and joys and sorrows with stunning transparency and vulnerability.
Gaga? She's simultaneously exuberant and intimate, introverted and extroverted, achingly open-hearted and yet appropriately restrained and disciplined. She announces her cinematic presence to Hollywood and I wouldn't be surprised to see her pick up an Academy Award this year.
The film's technical achievements are just as remarkable from Matthew Libatique's handheld intimacies to Karen Murphy's picturesque locales to Erin Benach's Gaga-influenced costuming and an original soundtrack filled to the brim with original tunes perfectly complementing both Cooper and Lady Gaga.
A Star is Born is, without question, one of the best films of 2018 and the kind of film that you pick up on DVD/Blu-ray once it's available so you always have it by your side when you want to laugh or cry or sing or love or remember.
There may be better films in 2018, but few will stay in your heart like A Star is Born.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic