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On paper, A Star Is Born already has three strikes against it: it's a remake; it's a project that had a hard time getting out of development hell (this almost was a Clint Eastwood movie, starring Beyonce); and it's trading on the name of a big-ticket pop star's acting skills. And yet, judging by the end result, it feels like co-writer / director / star Bradley Cooper loves those sorts of odds, as his version of this oft-remade story takes off at full flight from the very first moments, and never lets up. What could have been a remake for the sake of remakes has been made new again, in a very modern take on a classic story.
Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a musical star that sells out arenas, attracts attention left and right, and has a bit of a drinking problem. But when he meets Ally (Lady Gaga), he starts to turn things around, through his nurturing of her own gift for song. As their careers move in their respective directions, their relationship will be tested, with everything on the line.
For a directorial debut, A Star Is Born is a total punch to the face from start to finish. With a confidence of someone at the height of their craft, Bradley Cooper introduces the audience to his voice in such a clear cut manner that it feels like he's been directing films for a good couple of years now. You can tell who his biggest influence is too, as every ounce of A Star Is Born looks like it was directed by someone so familiar with the style of Clint Eastwood. While Cooper does borrow from Clint's visual palette, it's only as homage rather than outright theft.
Rather than give the audience the standard formula that they would expect from a film such as A Star Is Born, Cooper delivers a sprawling relationship drama that fully captures a realistic picture of love. There are still fights and failings between his Jackson and Gaga's Ally, but none of it is played for Hollywood spectacle. Rather, it's delivered with such relatable emotion and execution that you fall along with them, while feeling every heartache along the way. It's through this that the story feels like a more organic product rather than a narrative that's hitting sign posts. It feels like you're watching real lives unfold on screen, and it makes the twists and turns the film takes all the more devastating and uplifting.
Of course, the driving factor of A Star Is Born's success is the intense chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. As individual actors, they're both at the top of their game, with Gaga standing toe to toe with her director / co-star in her first leading film role. But whenever they're on screen together, you can feel how natural it was for the two of them to slip into these characters, and bounce off of each other's energy. Conversely, Bradley Cooper stands up to Lady Gaga's vocal talents, delivering a singing voice that's more impressive than we ever would have imagined. While there's definitely a vital and impressive supporting cast with the likes of Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle, Andrew "Dice" Clay and Anthony Ramos, the unquestionable center of this film's universe is Cooper and Gaga, and they burn with the heat and intensity of a furnace.
It's hard to imagine the fact that A Star Is Born is another Hollywood remake / product of development hell, as it works so damned well that it's hard to deny its charms. It's a naturalistic musical that tells a very human story we've already heard plenty of times before, just in a different octave and with different lyrics. Bradley Cooper's directorial debut is a force of nature, and one can only hope that he and Lady Gaga will continue to work together in the future, as their combined talents are so suited for one another.