Monday, April 15, 2024

Review: Lady Gaga in Bradley Cooper’s “A Star is Born” Harkens Back to the Great Big Studio Movies of Yore


Before we get lost in how wonderful Bradley Cooper’s version of Frank Pearson and John Gregory Dunne-Joan Didion’s “A Star is Born” is, and how Lady Gaga is now going to beyond Superstardom, may we stop and salute Sam Elliott? He’s going to get an Oscar nomination for playing Cooper’s much older brother and road manager in this movie. He is absolutely superb, perfectly cast, and this is his year.

I just wanted get that out of the way.

This “Star” is the great big studio movie every studio has pined for for a long time. I mean, it’s big. Cooper has outdone himself, he joins the ranks of Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, and Ben Affleck (and even Ethan Hawke, of late) has top notch actors who also became important directors. Good for him. There isn’t a nicer guy.

He brings a fresh look to “ASIB” while at the same time riffing greatly on that 1976 Streisand-Kristofferson chapter. Cooper and Lady Gaga are sort of playing those actors playing the new characters of Jack and Ally (formerly Norman and Esther). I hope the choices are intentional. But Cooper’s Jack is a newer grizzled Kris, and Gaga’s Ally is very Barbra centric– so many references to her nose and how she was told to change it. This is Streisand’s story! (Gaga’s nose seems just fine btw).

He’s a big rock-country star with a bad drinking problem. She’s doing gigs at drag clubs in Queens among queens who are nicely letting her be “the girl.” Drunk, and looking for more drink on the way to JFK, he tells his driver to stop at this bar. There he sees Her, and hears her sing, and that’s it: they must be together.

Sounds simple, right? But his star is descending, hers is ascending. Still, they love each other. But she can’t deal with the drinking, he goes to rehab, and she wins a Grammy Award. You know where this is headed.

We know this story so well, and Cooper et al know we do. So he makes it just new enough and of the moment to capture our attention. It doesn’t hurt that Cooper has a good eye and Jack turns out to be an authentic rocker. Cooper shoulders 2/3 of the movie, which is mind blowing for a debut. And he was smart. You can tell he drew on Robert Altman’s “Nashville” as some influence, a reference guide maybe. Still, it’s a new work.

But it’s all about Lady Gaga. She sings “La Vie En Rose” in the drag club first ten minutes, and you might as well give her an award right there. You could leave, she’s done it, her voice is rich and textured. Her time at Tony Bennett University was well spent.

But wait– she has ten more songs. She draws on Barbra and Liza and Judy and all the girls with gumption and a voice. She’s their kid vocally, although musically her heroine is represented in her Queens bedroom with a framed cover of Carole King’s “Tapestry.” The message is clear, so are all the piano based songs. If Carole and Elton John had a kid, it would be Lady Gaga. Her talent is really stunning.

The soundtrack is phenomenal. One hit after another. I’m concerned because it could unseat “The Bodyguard” as the biggest soundtrack of all time. The final song, sung by Gaga, is so Whitney Houston-Clive Davis-David Foster that the comparison must be made: someone read the playbook for that past triumph. And they nailed it. They’ve got enough singles to peel off for months to come.

Nods to Dave Chappelle, Andrew Dice Clay, and Anthony Ramos for fine supporting work. Matthew Libatique will get much applause for his exceptional cinematography. He and Cooper make the film fresh all the way through. Warner Bros. needn’t worry about a Most Popular Film award– they’ve got it. Now they can brace themselves for big big box office.



Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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