The much-anticipated A Star Is Born is a new story to many people, especially a younger generation, but to some of us, this is the fourth major motion picture in 86 years depicting this tragic romance. I could not help but compare these two lead actors, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, to the performances of Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand in the 1976 version. This latter duo took the world by storm in the sad tale of love, fame, and self-destruction. Much like Streisand, Gaga is a natural: Her singing and musical performances are exceptional, of course, but she also shines as an actor. Her down-to-earth quality brings a touch of realism to this otherwise glamorous remake focused on a superstar, drug-addicted, drunk, Jack (Cooper), who discovers and champions an outstanding, musical artist named Ally (Gaga), otherwise an average girl. Due to his sickness and her fast rise to stardom, their relationship is volatile and chaotic, so expect plenty of alcohol and drug abuse.
Likewise, Cooper has strong moments both as a director and a performer, notably as a musician, and exudes a stage presence that is an undeniable homage to Kristofferson. Ally is also believable in her attachment to Jack in the same way that Esther (Streisand) is to John (Kristofferson).
However, previous renditions handled the final tragedy with class and subtlety, as opposed to harsh brutality. The shocking 2018 ending seems to cheapen the depth of Ally’s and Jack’s relationship.
Cooper delivers solid characterization as director and writer by including Ally’s family in the storyline, along with backstory about why Jack struggles as he does with his demons. However, he relies on lazy devices, like gratuitous F-bombs, and the current movie tends to idealize not only Jack’s and Ally’s relationship, but Jack himself, who is positioned as a victim, and in some ways a saint or martyr. Sam Elliott (Bobby) is also very strong as Jack’s brother, which adds further dimension to Jack’s character.
This film can, indeed, be touted as a “musical,” as we encounter original song after song after song, some of which are exceptional. The last song and performance by Gaga, true to form from the 1976 version, is especially moving.
But due to extreme violence and profane language, A Star Is Born is not Dove Approved.
The Dove Take
A Star Is Born tackles serious issues, shines in great performances, but relies on gratuitous dramatic devices rather than the beauty of simplicity.