A Star is Born

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

“A Star is Born” was originally filmed in 1937 and subsequently remade three times, most famously (until now) as a rock musical starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in 1976. Bradley Cooper directs and stars in the latest version, one that hits all the right notes.

Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a rock star with magnetism to spare but carrying around a guitar case overflowing with personal problems. Drug addicted and alcoholic, he’s a troubled guy who falls for Ally (Lady Gaga) after seeing her perform a tour de force version of “La Vie En Rose“ in a bar. It’s love at first sight. He’s attracted to her talent and charisma; she is wary but interested. Soon they become involved, personally and professionally. As their romance blossoms her star rises meteorically as his fades slowly into the sunset.

It’s a familiar story given oxygen by rock solid direction, music with lyrics that forwards the story and two very good, authentic performances.

Cooper, all easy charm and weathered smile, digs deep to play a good man undone by his addictions but Lady Gaga equals him. Gaga sheds the theatricality of her pop persona, creating a soulful character that mixes vulnerability and combative independence. Stripped down, she is rawer than we’ve seen her before in a performance that feels authentic and not a musician playing a musician. It helps that she and Cooper have chemistry to spare—from their mentor and student relationship to their romance—but make no mistake this is a performance that stands alone.

In addition to the romance and music “A Star is Born” has something to say about art. In a time when the arts are under siege by government cuts and pre-packaged pop culture the film emphatically reminds us, both in practice and in its themes, that artists are here to actually say something. Everything else is just product. “Music is essentially twelve notes between any octave; twelve notes and the octave repeats. It’s the same story told over and over. All any artist can offer the world is how they see those twelve notes.”

“A Star is Born” could have been product, a glitzy film with a heartthrob and a pop star in the leads but instead resonates with real feelings and heartfelt emotion.

4 ½ STARS