A STAR IS BORN: Every few decades or so, Hollywood loves to revisit the familiar story of an uber-famous, self-destructive entertainer who falls hopelessly in love with an up and comer that he mentors and whose stardom will ultimately supplant his own before he’s done in by his own personal demons. The only part that ever changes is the artistic backdrop it plays out in and in this fourth movie version, we’re introduced to a wildly popular singer (Bradley Cooper) whose songs alternate between hard-driving rock pieces and wistful country-style ballads sung before huge throngs of screaming fans. It’s in search of the nearest gin mill that he meets an unconventional songwriter (Lady Gaga) with incredible vocal range that you just know has got to be discovered. Both performers roll out excellent performances in ways you might not expect them to with Cooper (SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK) totally believable singing the kind of songs that really would be hits with the masses while playing a pretty mean guitar. Gaga, in a sort of semi-autobiographical role, proves that she can act as well as belt out a song with power making her a well-thought out choice for the part since the last two STAR movies have been vehicles showcasing the lead actress. There’s an authenticity with both the musical numbers and their settings along with what feels like a self-referential subplot involving Gaga’s transformation into something of a more corporately outlandish stage presence that mirrors her past meat dress moments. After all, it’s only fitting that we first encounter her character performing in a drag queen bar vocalizing Edith Piaf as if to acknowledge her real-life status as an icon with the LGBT community. In his first effort as a filmmaker, co-writer/director Cooper moves the story along briskly and gets very noteworthy turns from interesting casting that includes supporting players like Dave Chappelle (YOU’VE GOT MAIL), Andrew Dice Clay (BLUE JASMINE), Sam Elliott (UP IN THE AIR) and Rafi Gavron (CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER) as Gaga’s manipulative agent. There’s an underlying appreciation for prior versions of the film like Cooper’s Jackson Maine character paying homage to James Mason’s actor Norman Maine from the 1954 movie (See CLOSING CREDITS.) along with Gaga intermittently channeling Judy Garland from that same work. I don’t know if a third remake of the original 1937 Fredric March-Janet Gaynor work was really necessary but it is here yet again and what we do have is a well-crafted, well-written melodrama that’s stylish, respectful of the source material and can provide an accurate, inside look at an industry that occasionally eats its’ young. CRITIC’S GRADE: B+
CLOSING CREDITS: Call me “old school”, but I still think the 1954 movie with James Mason and Judy Garland is still the best of the four films. Moss Hart wrote the script for this semi-musical directed by George Cukor (MY FAIR LADY) that featured songs like “Born In A Trunk” and the positively enchanting “The Man That Got Away”. The music was co-written by Ira Gershwin and Harold Arlen who had previously collaborated with Garland on THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939). Garland was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress and was prepared to give an acceptance speech if she won (She didn’t.) from her hospital bed after just having given birth to her son Joey. Garland was always enthralled by co-star Mason’s voice and her children insisted that he deliver one of the eulogies at her funeral when she died in 1970.