Over the course of my life to date, I have witnessed only two things that can bring large numbers of drastically different people together with positive, uplifting results: movies and music. (OK fine and maybe cat videos.)
That’s why I go to as many concerts as my budget will allow each year. It’s also why I love watching and writing about movies. There’s no greater rush than being among hundreds or even thousands of other music fans, all singing along to the same song and cheering for the same artist. But the experience of gasping, screaming, laughing or sobbing along to the same movie with friends, family or a crowded theater of strangers comes pretty darn close.
Perhaps that’s why A Star is Born feels like something so very special, despite being the third remake of a movie whose storyline is not at all original. One career (and life) soars as another crashes — this isn’t new territory. But thanks to the choices made by first-time director Bradley Cooper, who co-wrote the film with Will Fetters and Eric Roth and also stars alongside Lady Gaga, everything seems fresh. We feel the energy of a sold-out stadium crowd as if we are there. We witness an incredible talent take flight as if we are in the front row. We experience the powerful effects that music can have on one’s soul. And we get an intimate peek into an unlikely duo’s relationship that sparks thanks to their shared love of songwriting.
That duo is Jackson Maine (Cooper), a famous singer-songwriter battling not-so-hidden demons, and Ally (Lady Gaga), a waitress-by-day/singer-by-night with big dreams. They meet by chance, and — to quote a ‘60s song that’s also been remade several times — she’s all he needs to get by. Maine’s long-suffering brother and manager Bobby (the wonderful Sam Elliott) is the first to notice how Maine is playing the best he has in years after Ally enters the picture. But soon everyone realizes that Maine’s addictions are not so easily overcome.
I went into this film wondering if I would be able to see Ally as anyone other than Lady Gaga, who is, as you might have heard, quite a big personality. Early on, I couldn’t, and that’s probably because one of her first big scenes takes place in a drag bar where she performs a dramatic version of “La Vie en Rose” … not unlike something Gaga herself might do. (To be clear, I’m not knocking that scene as it was both stunning and, later, hilarious.) But as the movie progresses and Ally and Maine’s relationship grows deeper, Gaga was able to transform into a fledgling singer and I forgot all about her real-life persona. I still get chills thinking about (and listening to, as I have the soundtrack on repeat these days) Ally surprising even herself as she suddenly belts out “OFF OF THE DEEP END, WATCH AS I DIVE IN…” the first time Maine brings her out on stage to duet. It is nothing short of electrifying. I will be rooting for that song, “Shallow,” on Oscar night.
Cooper is just as strong as the deeply troubled Maine — a man who almost always makes the worst choices for himself as he battles the diseases that are alcoholism and drug addiction. But man oh man there is no denying the chemistry between Cooper and Gaga. If it wasn’t legit, this movie would’ve lost steam within 10 minutes. Instead, their magnetic appeal as a couple makes you care about them separately and root for them to make it together.
Whether you’ve seen a previous version of A Star is Born or not, I would bet good money that you’ll be moved by its ending. There was not a dry eye around me when the theater lights came up, and it’s all due to Cooper and Gaga’s moving, believable performances. The Oscar buzz for this one is real, and it’s deserved.