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A Star is Born (2018)::rating::4::rating::4

The premise of A Star is Born dates all the way back to the first decade of talking pictures.  Its remaking has been a generational affair, with Judy Garland and James Mason, and then Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson taking respective swings. Bradley Cooper’s version doesn’t so much retrace the same well-worn path as use it as a point from which to pivot. This is completely the correct call, and it makes a story that should be past its sell-by date feel fresh and dramatically engaging.

Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a mangy roots-rock superstar.  His life floats monotonously through the fucked-up haze of a troubled celebrity:  Each sold-out arena serves as just another place to coast through a setlist; each hotel is just another place to get shitfaced on whiskey and pills.  He stumbles into a drag bar in time to catch the night’s only female singer.  Lady Gaga plays Ally, the story’s requisite girl-from-nowhere.  Maine and Ally swirl into each other’s orbit.  Her ascent to fame and recognition becomes his concern; his free-fall into the black hole of addiction becomes hers.

So there’s no equivocation, Gaga’s casting here is no mere novelty.  She doesn’t just kill it, she crushes it and melts it down—like an old car in a junkyard.   In fact, her acting is so natural and compelling it overshadows her singing at many points.  True chemistry between romantic leads is as endangered as a damn albino deer.  Watch enough movies and you’ll learn to spot it just from how rare it is.  Cooper and Gaga never strike a false note together, and this unforced tension–this genuine heat–drives the story and makes it ceaselessly watchable.

The music is another check in the plus column.  Lukas Nelson (son of Willie) collaborates with Gaga and Cooper to make a memorable, emotionally satisfying, and hook-laden soundtrack of songs that both fit the characters and further the story.  Cooper slips into the role of an earthy rock star like a pair of wranglers in a Marlboro ad. To see him play guitar and work a crowd, it be easy to guess he’d been performing music his whole life.

With A Star is Born, Bradley Cooper and his crew achieve a rarity: They take a movie that’s been remade many times—under this title and many others—and supersede all expectations. This version has been reshaped so that it remains relevant to cynical, contemporary audiences, and yet what made the original stories so compelling has been retained.  It reaches a similar destination but takes a strikingly different route to get there.  This should be a serious Oscar contender.

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