Norman Maine and Esther Blodgett. They’re part of the Hollywood landscape, like the Hollywood sign, Hollywood and Vine, and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (in Hollywood). Smart move, Bradley Cooper, selecting a tried and tested quantity like A Star is Born for your directorial debut. Cooper is freed to focus on the staging and the singing and the songs, knowing full well that the story—made and remade three times already (with Fredric March and Janet Gaynor in 1937; with James Mason and Judy Garland in 1954—probably my favorite of the three; and with Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand in 1976)—will pretty much take care of itself. Smart move, too, casting himself as “seasoned musician” Jackson Maine—Jack, not Norman—even though it’s twice as much work. Because, as it turns out, he can carry a tune (who knew?). And yet another smart move picking Lady Gaga to play “struggling artist” Ally No Last Name (about which the internet is all atwitter, and rightly so). For we all know that she, Ms. Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, can belt one out of the Superdome. So this fourth-and-probably-counting version of the classic Pygmalion-inspired sudser of an established artiste taking an aspiring she’s-a-good-girl-she-is diva under his wing has been crafted by Cooper (who also penned the screenplay with Eric Roth and Will Fetters based on the original story by Robert Carson and William Wellman plus its 1937 screenplay by Carson, Wellman, Alan Campbell and yes that Dorothy Parker, with uncredited input from six additional screenwriters, as well as the 1954 screenplay by Moss Hart, along with the 1976 screenplay by John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion and Frank Pierson—got all that?) into an absorbing feature film, one that succeeds in putting a modern spin on this most tragic of melodramas. Yes, Cooper does do all his own singing (and acting and directing and producing—got all that?) as does Lady G., not surprisingly. They’re terrific together: excellent chemistry, genuine warmth and affection shown. Jack’s sweet. A drunk, for sure, but still charming when he’s not falling flat on his face. And Ally’s tough and spunky, a true talent. And the film’s songs are strong and stick with you. It’s a love story for the ages and, on the strength of A Star is Born (2018), Bradley Cooper seems likely to have secured himself a healthy future in the director’s chair. As for Lady Gaga, it’s not unimaginable to assume that she’ll add, oh, a few million additional members to her already prodigious fanbase.
(c) 2018 David N. Butterworth