“A Star Is Born,” the fourth version of the showbiz melodrama, doesn’t achieve the classical sweep it aims for, and its emotional impact doesn’t go deep. But costar Bradley Cooper making his directorial debut and Lady Gaga generate undeniable romantic and musical electricity.
Co-writing with Eric Roth and Will Fetters, Cooper retains the general narrative of the drama’s previous incarnations, which include George Cukor’s 1954 version with Judy Garland and the 1976 film with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.
Cooper’s straightforward style suggests that of Clint Eastwood, who planned to direct this movie years ago; the story follows the relationship of two creative artists — one ascending, one falling.
Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a bearded longtime roots-rocker with tinnitus and multiple addictions. Jackson can still pack a stadium, but he no longer feels the thrill.
Lady Gaga’s Ally is a food-service worker and aspiring singer-songwriter who lives with her Sinatra-obsessed father (Andrew Dice Clay).
The two meet-cute when Jackson, wanting a drink, stumbles into the gay bar where Ally sings. She wows him with her rendition of “La Vie en Rose.” By the end of the evening, the two are smitten.
In no time, Ally is joining Jackson onstage. They become artistic collaborators and lovers.
The bliss starts dissipating when Rez (Rafi Gavron), a slick manager, transforms the down-to-earth Ally into a flashy orange-haired dance-pop attraction. Her path diverges from Jackson’s, Jackson fears she’s selling out and Jackson’s boozing and self-destructiveness worsen.
The film loses some gusto in the second half, when the couple isn’t falling in love or working collaboratively.
While Cooper’s interest in authenticity yields some intriguing material, Ally’s career choices, on that note, are hard to process. Is she struggling over choosing between fame and integrity? If so, there’s little sign of it.
The Rez character is a tediously one-note slimeball, and events in the final act don’t resonate tragically like they should.
Still, the movie’s a robustly entertaining melodrama with the appeal of an old-fashioned big-screen love story. Cooper captures the excitement of the music scene and creates sparkling, intimate moments.
A scene when Ally, with her soaring, natural vocals, joins Jackson in singing “Shallow,” a song they jointly created, strikingly illustrates the pair’s connection.
Cooper presents the music so audiences hear it the way the characters do. (The vocals were recorded live during filming.) Believable as a raw-sounding rock star, Cooper even cowrote some of the songs.
Lady Gaga, remarkable in her first leading movie role, charms as the pre-fame Ally and deftly portrays her transformation. Her mighty pipes leave no question regarding Ally’s talent.
Sam Elliott, as Jackson’s long-suffering manager and much older brother, stands out among the supporting cast.
A Star Is Born
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Rafi Gavron
Written by: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters
Directed by: Bradley Cooper
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes