A Star Is Born

Bradley Cooper makes his directorial debut with a modern take on A Star Is Born, and it might just be the best version yet. This is an incredibly enduring story that can easily be updated every few generations without losing its raw power. The original 1937 Janet Gaynor/Fredric March version, the great 1954 Judy Garland/James Mason version, and the enjoyable 1976 Barbra Streisand/Kris Kristofferson version all tell basically the same tale, yet are specific to the music of their respective times. This new one is no different. It benefits by delving into the fundamental themes more deeply than any of the others did.

Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a veteran rock star with a steadily worsening drug and alcohol addiction. By chance, he meets Ally (Lady Gaga), a waitress who dreams of becoming a singer/songwriter but doesn't have enough confidence in herself. They form an immediate connection, spending an entire night talking about music. He then summons her to one of his concerts, essentially forcing her to join him onstage. Ally makes a splash, so Jack commits himself to helping her get a foot in the door of the industry. She rapidly becomes a sensation, while his own career continues its downward trajectory. The romantic relationship they develop similarly has ups and downs.

A Star Is Born has a phenomenal screenplay from Cooper, Will Fetters, and Eric Roth. They take the basic premise and mine it for all the depth they can. The film examines addiction and codependency with devastating accuracy. We can see how Jack wants to sober up and be a better man after falling for Ally. At the same time, watching her career ascend while his declines helps to trigger all the demons that drive him to substances. Ally, meanwhile, futilely tries to cover for him. One of the best scenes finds Jack drunkenly embarrassing himself at the Grammy Awards, as she futilely tries to pass his behavior off as charming.

Inner workings of the music business are similarly treated with insight. The arc Ally takes is fascinating. Her true self is a passionate, down-to-earth singer. Once she gets signed, her manager (Rafi Gavron) slowly changes her. The wardrobe becomes glitzier, the music gets poppier, and the image begins to become as important as the work. She starts to seem like a dozen other performers. Cooper also takes care to portray things like the Grammys and Ally's appearance as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live as realistically as possible. That authenticity helps immerse us in the film's world.

A couple brand new elements are effectively added. Ally's father (Andrew Dice Clay) really pushes her to do everything she can to become famous, and Jack has an older manager/brother (Sam Elliott, outstanding as always) who becomes fed up with his drug-fueled irresponsibility. These additions give A Star Is Born extra storytelling richness.

At the heart of the movie is the dynamic created between Cooper and Lady Gaga. Their chemistry is intense. Both give excellent performances, creating characters we care about and whose love for one another feels genuine. Gaga is a true revelation. It's unusual to see her normally -- that is, without the makeup and costumes that are a big part of her professional persona. She does a wise thing in playing Ally with subtlety. Aside from the fact that we don't expect Lady Gaga to be subtle, the choice builds empathy. There are none of the "Look at me!" acting moments that, if we're being honest, Streisand incorporated into her version. It's legitimately great work.

Memorable songs and the powerhouse way Cooper stages the finale further contribute to the film's success. A Star Is Born tells a story many of us already know. The magic comes from the fact that we utterly forget we know it and become absorbed all over again. This is a superb movie about love, music, heartache, and ambition, and how they all mash together for two people.

Blu-ray Features:

A Star Is Born arrives onto 4K UHD combo pack, Blu-ray combo pack, and DVD Special Edition on February 19. A complimentary copy of the Blu-ray was provided by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment for review purposes.

The supplementary material kicks off with "The Road to Stardom," a 30-minute look at the making of the film that contains some terrific behind-the-scenes footage. Bradley Cooper talks in depth about his vision for this new take on the story, as well as how that vision was achieved. This feature isn't a generic promotional effort; it really gives you a sense of all that went into making A Star Is Born special.

The rest of the goodies are, appropriately, music-based. "Jam Sessions and Rarities" is a section featuring never-before-seen musical performances from Cooper and Lady Gaga. The jam sessions are especially interesting. They're half home-video footage of the stars rehearsing, and half polished footage shot during the production. The songs performed are "Baby What You Want Me To Do," and "Midnight Special." The third song, "Is That Alright," contains previously unseen footage of Gaga in character.

Four music videos are also included -- "Shallow," "Always Remember Us This Way," "Look What I Found," and "I'll Never Love Again." Finally, there's "Musical Moments," which allows you to jump to specific performance numbers from the movie. A digital copy is also included in the pack.

The picture and sound quality on the Blu-ray is extraordinary. The songs will really show off your surround sound system's capabilities.

out of four

A Star Is Born is rated R for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity, and substance abuse. The running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes.