The story's not new. Boy meets girl. He's a star on the decline; she's a talent on the rise. Add love, fame, addiction, and them's the bones for "A Star Is Born." While the latest is the film's third remake, this version is in a league of its own.
It's the directorial debut for Bradley Cooper ("Silver Linings Playbook"). He plays Jack, a successful alcoholic musician, who's circling the drain before he meets Ally, a struggling songstress with a voice that jolts him awake.
It's the first leading role for singer/songwriter Lady Gaga. She's known for her music and her larger-than-life headpieces, lace-covered ensems and, oh yeah, the meat dress. Here, she sheds her persona, and her freedom from flair is disarming.
When Ally joins Jack onstage for the first time, she bashfully covers her eyes and belts out in a stunning voice. You forget Gaga's played the Oscars, the Grammys because she's completely lost in the role. Add Cooper playing nearby, thrilled and encouraging, and it's one of the many moving moments in this film. There may be goosebumps. And tears.
The chemistry between the two actors is palpable, and Cooper lets their connection take the lead through some of the tenderest and most intimate moments captured on screen. He doesn't make his lens known often, but when he does, it's pitch-perfect, romanticizing the moment.
A slow motion shot as Ally shares a physical insecurity communicates Jack's gaze sees it much differently. Cooper eerily uses the intense glimmer of a spotlight to overshadow himself during both a high-energy and a devastating scene.
He introduces Jack performing with tight cuts to his fingers rapidly plucking a guitar. He studied that, piano and voice for a year and a half, and he wants you to know.
On the acting front, the three-time Oscar nominee balances devotion and inner demons convincingly, and his eyes drip a tired melancholy that's unreachable and quietly heartbreaking. And, man, can he sing.
Jack's brother Bobby is divinely done by Sam Elliott, whose advanced skill set communicates volumes in a trembly voice and fierce eyes. Dave Chappelle is convincingly wise and grounding as Jack's childhood friend Noodles. Anthony Ramos and Andrew Dice Clay capably bring roots and levity for Ally (and the viewers).
The music is superb with songs written by Gaga, Cooper, Mark Ronson, Lukas Nelson (son of Willie); they'll stir things in you. The performance scenes, shot live at Coachella and the Glastonbury Festival, capture the electricity of a show.
"A Star Is Born" has a strong legacy with stars Barbra Streisand (1976), Judy Garland (1954), Janet Gaynor (1937). Cooper and co-writers Eric Roth and Will Fetters make this their own and add more heart by illuminating a deep backstory for their male lead.
After 80 years and three remakes, the story keeps getting remade because its message about the toxicity of fame and the sanctity of art is forever universal. Whether you watch the others or not, this one's a must-see.
And bring tissues.
"A Star Is Born"
Starring: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott
Director: Bradley Cooper
Now showing: Premiere, Duluth 10, Lakes 10