You couldn’t ask for more Hollywood ooze than Bradley Cooper brings to his version of “A Star is Born,” casting himself and Lady Gaga in a remake of a plush tale of success’s perils.
Beloved country-rock musician Jackson Maine (Cooper, in his directing debut) discovers and falls for waitress and part-time drag bar singer Ally (Lady Gaga), who by the time they meet has all but packed in her musical ambitions. Maine is the knight in shining armor (warts and all), Ally the uplifted princess suddenly living the dream — until the relationship founders on the rocks of what William James once labeled “the bitch- goddess, SUCCESS. Both are eaten alive by doubt and melancholy, the background music of those headed up or down.
Bradley’s Maine is a booze-addled veteran whose dark side is shielded from public attention by brother Bobby (Sam Elliott). Ally is a wannabe survivor whose father (Andrew Dice Clay) runs L.A. limos. Ally and Jack come together in a club after she belts out an impassioned version of Piaf “La Vie en Rose.” Coup de foundre, as the French say — and he’s felled by her voice and verve.
The rest is about a man, a woman, a city, and the entwining of love and ambition. Lady Gaga is a real-life music maker and it shows. She makes little attempt to hide behind method-acting poses. Credit Cooper for not shying away from the beauty and grimesmanship of passion, carnal and existential. In that sense, he’s a Hollywood believer who revels in an obviously sentimental story while never letting it stray into the maudlin. Lady Gaga isn’t Judy Garland or Barbra Streisand, which isn’t to diminish her. She’s a breed apart, a woman in a man’s world who wants badly to be noticed, and finally is. But because of Cooper’s actor-director role, it’s his movie. Jack is big-time damaged goods who knows what it’s like to soar into fame’s stratosphere only to come apart inside, which makes his relationship with Ally all the more poignant. “Look,” he tells her, “talent comes everywhere, but having something to say and a way to say it so that people listen to it, that’s a whole other bag. And unless you get out and you try to do it, you’ll never know.”
The “doing it,” in all its forms, is the story here. The players are sinners and fallen angels in waiting, but they give of themselves in that lavish way movies were created to celebrate.