To be totally accurate, you'd have to say two stars are born with the excellent new version of A STAR IS BORN in theatres now.
I don't think anyone expected Bradley Cooper to be this great of a director, but he's fantastic, immersing you in this world for over two hours and making you feel like you've never seen a live concert from this angle before, right from the film's opening moments to its perfect final seconds. His visual choices are strong and the film never lags.
Lady Gaga's an amazing singer and entertainer, but that doesn't always translate into visible talent as an actress (sorry Madonna, but other than "Evita"...ouch)
Gaga's already generated serious Best Actress Oscar buzz and it's all deserved.
The story's been filmed multiple times before, but each film was both a hit and a snapshot of its time in history.
I've seen and enjoyed the last two versions, Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954's big screen musical and Streisand/Kristofferson in the excellent 1976 rock opus. To me, they both pale compared to the raw energy and emotion of Cooper/Gaga.
Bradley Cooper is Jackson Maine, a grizzled, tired superstar, playing night after night on the road and fueling himself with pills and booze. He's at the stage in his career where the audience sings along with the hits and he gives them what they want, night after night.
One night after a gig, he wanders into a drag bar where he meets actress/struggling artist Ally, perfectly played by a stripped down, shy Gaga.
Cooper both plays and stages these opening scenes perfectly, capturing their instant attraction and connection. The first hour of the film feels like a camera snuck quietly into two people's real conversations as they learn more about each other. It's raw, without a false moment. The chemistry between Cooper and Gaga is powerful.
As Maine talks her into performing on stage with him and their impromptu duet goes viral, her star rises and Maine eventually feels his own demons begin to swirl.
I'll say no more for those that dont know the oft told story, but for me, the choices this version makes on its path elevate it above previous versions.
The supporting cast is flawless. two surprise performances from comedians are outstanding. Andrew "Dice" Clay is Ally's dad Lorenzo and he's excellent. After seeing him in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine" I knew he could act, but Cooper gets an even better performance from him here.
Dave Chappelle is great in a straight role as Jackson's best friend from many years before, who grounds Maine long enough for him to appreciate what he's found in Ally.
Sam Elliott (The BIg Lebowski, Road House) has his best role in years as Maine's older brother. Their scenes together are some of the best in the film.
But at the center of the film are Cooper and Gaga. Cooper is a surprisingly good singer and stage performer, not a moment feels forced, you accept him as Maine immediately.
Watching Gaga go from her first number on a tiny stage in the drag club to the film's final moments provides her so many moments that could have gone wrong, but she nails every one of them. She's terrific in every scene.
All the songs, written by Gaga and Cooper along with Lukas Nelson or Mark Ronson are great. Cooper's opening scene performing "Black Eyes" lets you know immediately that you're not going to have to pretend for two hours that Cooper's a star, he sounds like one. His quieter "Maybe It's Time" is great, "Shallow" is powerful and the closing 'I'll Never Love Again" will likely win best Song at the Oscars. It's a moment.
There's a great piece of dialogue from Elliott: "Music is essentially 12 notes between any octave - 12 notes and the octave repeat. It's the same story told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer this world is how they see those 12 notes."
You can't offer those notes any more perfectly than Lady Gaga and Cooper as both Actor & Director play them here.
It's the best movie of the year so far for me and gets an A+ and an immediate spot in my all-time Top 100 films.