‘A Star Is Born’ Is Both an Inspiring Musical and Portrait of Addiction

For his directorial debut, Bradley Cooper took a gamble when he decided to remake a classic story of love, heartbreak, and the steep price of fame. But with the extraordinarily talented Lady Gaga by his side, his boldness has paid off with this latest version of “A Star Is Born.” Cooper takes second billing to Gaga, who steals the show as Ally, a gifted singer-songwriter who finds herself in the orbit of Jackson Maine (Cooper), a famous singer-songwriter dealing with multiple demons. Despite the star power behind it, Cooper’s “A Star Is Born” is a down-to-earth musical drama that pulls in the viewer from its first note.

Although it may be hard for some to fathom Cooper having on-screen electricity with someone who isn’t Jennifer Lawrence, Jack and Ally have a natural chemistry from the start. In the first five minutes of the film, it is established that Jack is an alcoholic. It is his immediate need for a drink that brings him to the drag bar where he first locks eyes with the establishment’s sole cis woman performer, Ally. The attraction is intense, and although she feels it too, Ally is hesitant to let Jack sweep her off her feet after one night, not only because of her responsibilities at home, but also because she senses his alcoholism, a disease that affects her own father to a lesser degree. Once-controversial comedian Andrew Dice Clay shows how much he has mellowed here in this role as Ally’s loving father, Lorenzo, who nudges her to give Jack a chance in hopes that the relationship could help her launch her career. However, nobody could have predicted her practical overnight stardom, aided not only but Jack, but also YouTube.

“A Star Is Born” contains lots of great scenes in which Jack and Ally, separately and together, perform catchy and inspiring musical numbers on iconic stages at the Shrine, the Forum, and even “Saturday Night Live.” However, the scenes that are the most impactful and memorable are the intimate ones, not just between Jack and Ally, but also between Jack and Bobby (Sam Elliott), his older half-brother and manager who has been carrying a heavy burden. Predictably, Jack’s alcoholism catches up to him and proves to be detrimental to his career, and, more importantly, his relationship with Ally. Cooper does a painstaking job spotlighting the perils of addiction. As much as the viewer wants Ally’s love to be Jack’s salvation, the grip that this inherited disease has on him proves to be too strong, leading to a devastating resolution.

Cooper gives a nuanced performance here as Jack, especially during his heartbreaking struggle to get and stay sober. While Gaga may not yet be at the level as someone like Lawrence, she gives Cooper a lot to work with here as she finds the balance here between being a patient wife and a passionate artist. Lady Gaga the musician is famous for her elaborate costumes, make-up, and other flourishes that enhance her performances and add to her mystique, but here she is rather vulnerable and stripped down, allowing her natural beauty and gifts to shine through. While there are clear differences between Ally and her, it could not have been much of a stretch for Gaga to play a female musician whose manager (Rafi Gavron) attempts to mold her against her wishes. At  the end of the day, no matter what she wears or what color her hair is, Gaga’s raw talent is undeniable.

A Star Is Born” opens Oct. 5 nationwide.