A Star Is Born review: Bradley Cooper makes his directorial debut with this third remake of the classic story, recruiting global pop icon Lada Gaga in the Janet Gaynor/ Judy Garland/ Barbra Streisand role, an unknown hotel worker cum wannabee singer destined for the big time when she’s taken under the wing of a superstar country singer.

Image credit: Courtesy of TIFF

A Star Is Born review [TIFF]

We meet Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine, a forty-something rock star mid-performance on stage at what looks to be a festival setting. He’s delivering the goods, but it’s apparent from early on that he’s battling his demons – notably alcohol and drugs. He leaves the venue, driven to the local airport by his Cheetos-eating, loyal driver (Greg Grunberg). Jack wants to find a bar; any bar that serves liquor. He hits a local drag bar en route, one which seems to be bursting with singing talent, but definitely not ‘his kind of place,’ something the doorman quickly tells him as he attempts to enter. An already booze-fuelled Jack asks, ‘Do you serve alcohol?’ ‘Yes,’ responds the doorman. ‘Then it’s my kind of place,’ he retorts. It’s clear from the off that Jackson is a stand-up guy, happily stopping for snaps and speaking to the locals, but it is when Lady Gaga’s clearly talented Ally enters the fray to the tune of Edith Piaf, that he really sits up and pays attention.

As part of the drag troupe, Ally performs a rendition of Piaf’s classic La Vie En Rose, showing a clear level of talent in front of a man who can certainly make things happen for her professionally, but that isn’t the initial thing that brings them close – it is pure attraction and ultimately passion as the two slowly fall for one another – a key element to the whole movie working. And work it does. It is their initial meeting that sets Ally on a path to international recognition and superstardom, while Jackson continues on his downward spiral into addiction.

Related: The Front Runner review [TIFF]

I haven’t seen either of the previous incarnations of A Star Is Born, so absolutely came to this with a fresh set of eyes – and I can it entertained me, entranced me, delighted me, and reduced me to tears. It’s difficult to imagine anyone but Lady Gaga playing the role in this new incarnation of the tale, and she’s absolutely electric in every scene she’s in.

The music is catchy – expect more than the one Oscar nomination here –  the performances believable and Cooper’s naturalistic approach in capturing the live segments of the story – of which there are many –  shot at the likes of Coachella and Glastonbury – spliced into the story brilliantly. The film is long but doesn’t feel over-long, Cooper and co. filling their screenplay with

I spent the first part of the film trying to work out whose accent Cooper’s voice reminded me off. Then it landed –  Sam Elliott. Then Sam Elliott shows up as his older brother and manager– “You stole my voice,” his character wilding exclaims. He did, but he does it so well.

Gaga is Gaga, a role which could have been semi-autobiographical. She holds her own in her feature debut as Ally, and of course, is totally believable and empathetic, the performances stunning.  Andrew Dice Clay is perfectly cast as her could-have-been-crooner, though limo driver father Lorenzo, and there’s the corporate man Rez, played by Rafi Gavron, who just about stays out of cliched, slimy A&R guy territory.

I wept a lot during A Star Is Born, mostly due to its many heartfelt moments, and others due to the amount that I was truly absorbed in this tragic love story. It’s Cooper the actor and Gaga who bring everything together though, and Cooper’s utterly jaw-dropping portrayal of a falling star heartbreaking as much as Gaga’s is inspiring.

The film is a huge calling card for Cooper as a filmmaker. He brings freshness to a well-known story, but more than that shows huge exciting promise as a director for the future.

Indeed, a filmmaker is born.

A Star Is Born review by Paul Heath, September 2018.

A Star Is Born was reviewed at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. Click here for all of our coverage.

A Star Is Born