PLOT An aspiring singer falls for a rock star, then begins to eclipse his fame.
CAST Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott
RATED R (language, adult themes)
BOTTOM LINE First-time director Cooper and co-star Gaga make beautiful music together in this glossy update of a Hollywood classic.
Of all the movies about the Hollywood fame machine, “A Star is Born” may be the most enduring. The story of an aspiring nobody and an A-list celebrity who fall in love and gradually change places, “A Star is Born” has been made four times over 80-plus years. The details may change — sometimes it’s about actors, sometimes singers — but “A Star Is Born" always remains the same: a Cinderella story in which the Prince does not get his happy-ever-after.
Bradley Cooper plays that prince, the alcoholic country-rocker Jackson Maine, and Lady Gaga is Ally, his undiscovered Cinderella, in the latest “Star.” Cooper and Gaga may be established names, but they have a lot riding on this project: It’s his directorial debut and her first leading film role. What’s more, they’re following in the footsteps of Fredric March and Janet Gaynor in 1937, James Mason and Judy Garland in 1954, and Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand in 1976 — all more or less Hollywood icons.
The good news is that Cooper and Gaga are flat-out terrific. Actors playing rock stars can be a dicey proposition, but Cooper is note-perfect as Maine, a sexy disaster poured into a pair of cowboy boots. Desperate for a drink one night, he slinks into a nightclub and sees Ally doing a cabaret rendition of “La Vie en Rose.” He’s smitten. Backstage, he removes her makeup (much as Mason did to Garland in 1954) and admires the face she says has kept her from pop stardom.
Gaga’s vulnerability is captivating, especially after so many years of music-video and stage personas. She’s best as pre-fame Ally: shy and self-effacing, but with an inner iron core. After Jackson drags her onto his stage for a duet — an electrifying moment that may be the movie’s high point — Ally becomes a viral sensation and soon finds herself singing power-ballads backed by dancers. The more Ally resembles Lady Gaga, the less interesting she becomes.
Like some of its predecessors, “A Star is Born” suffers from a meandering storyline (the script is by Eric Roth) and a slightly unclear theme: Is the movie about chasing dreams, selling out or sobering up? Still, Cooper and Gaga make beautiful music together (literally — they performed all songs live) and they virtually glow whenever they share the screen. Their “Star” makes a fine addition to a Hollywood legacy.