The most recent version of A Star Is Born under the direction of star Bradley Cooper is an affecting, mostly well-told show business story featuring outstanding songs and illuminating performances.
The Production: 4/5
It’s the fourth time around for A Star Is Born (under that title; the fifth time if one counts its direct forefather What Price Hollywood), and while the story may not retain the freshness or electricity of previous stabs at the material, the new songs, a vibrant cast, and star-producer-writer-director Bradley Cooper’s refocusing of the spotlight so that the new heavenly entity and her mentor share the limelight more equitably gives this version of the classic tale a luster all its own.
Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) packs in the throngs of adoring fans at his arena rockabilly concerts, but an unplanned detour to a seedy club for a nightcap introduces him to Ally (Lady Gaga), a powerful vocalist whose songwriting and singing careers haven’t advanced due to her insecurity about her looks. Jackson takes her under his wing, turning a simple song of hers into a power ballad they can warble together at one of his concerts, the video of which goes viral and thrusts Ally onto the international stage. But Jackson’s drinking and drug use along with a hearing impairment which is worsening begin eating into his popularity and the desire for his services within the industry, just at the moment that Ally’s career is going great guns.
Bradley Cooper, along with co-writers Will Fetters and Eric Roth, has used some of the aspects of their female star Lady Gaga’s volcanic show business career to feather the nest of their adaptation of this hoary tale. The bones of the story remain the same – one star rises while her lover’s career falters – and this version retains the music industry motif instituted in the 1976 Barbra Streisand conception of the story. Nods to Gaga’s following in the gay community (a stunning introduction to her singing “La Vie en Rose” in a drag club) and her own transformation into a glittery glamazon have worked their way into this account while Cooper and his fellow writers have given Jackson a truly sad backstory with a lot of personal baggage which somewhat account for his drug dependency as an emotional crutch. Cooper directs the on-stage sequences with showy versatility from the opening pill and booze soaked song “Black Eyes” to that electrifying first duet between the pair with “Shallow” and Ally’s first real blossoming as a solo artist in “Always Remember Us This Way.” But apart from the raucous concert sequences and the scene at the Grammys where Jackson humiliates Ally on a national television broadcast (easily the most embarrassing version of this moment in all four filmed versions of the story), the best musical moments are quieter ones: Jackson’s noble acoustic solo “Maybe It’s Time” or Ally noodling on the piano trying out new songs. And we get some arresting images, too: a wind farm that provides a turning point in the relationship between Jackson and his loving half-brother/caretaker Bobby (Sam Elliott), the behind-the-scenes frenzy at Saturday Night Live, and Ally learning dance moves with backup dancers inflicted on her by her driven manager Rez Gavron (Rafi Gavron). And one must not forget the slight nod to one of Lady Gaga’s precursors in the role, Judy Garland, as she warbles a few lines from the refrain of “Over the Rainbow” in her introductory sequence in the movie.
In this version of A Star Is Born, the two leading roles are for the first time basically of equal importance (Cooper, in addition to all of his jobs in the movie, rates top billing as a testament to how much more interesting his character is in the film compared to those who preceded him in earlier incarnations), and Bradley Cooper is the real revelation here, using a guttural speaking voice (according to him based on co-star Sam Elliott) and possessing real vocal chops that hold their own with his lauded singing co-star. (His end, unfortunately, isn’t filmed expressively enough to generate the kind of poignancy that, for example, James Mason’s Maine achieves in the 1954 A Star Is Born.) Lady Gaga does a fine job as Ally though her vocals are unquestionably more impressive and consistent than her dramatic performance which sometimes seems too studied and rote. Sam Elliott offers his usual sturdy performance as Jackson’s caring but exasperated brother, but the real surprise in the supporting performances comes from Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s limo-driving father, an old school gumba with his own never achieved dreams of crooning stardom. Rafi Gavron’s ambitious manager is an underwritten character (his part in Jackson’s ultimate fate is never dramatically resolved) that the actor does what he can with, and Anthony Ramos has a nice moment or two as Ally’s steadfast best friend. Popping in for brief bits are Dave Chappelle, Alec Baldwin, Brandi Carlile, and Ron Rifkin.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 is faithfully delivered in a 2160p transfer using the HEVC codec. Sharpness is very good except when it’s deliberately diffused in sequences where haze and distance are present to soften the image quality. Color is natural and never blooms. Dolby Vision has been used to nicely accentuate bright lights though it doesn’t make darker scenes any inkier. The movie has been divided into 19 chapters.
The disc offers both Dolby Atmos (decoded on my equipment as Dolby TrueHD 7.1) and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The Atmos track is extremely powerful, and though I am not Atmos-equipped, one can imagine the music and audience response during the concert scenes pouring forth from every direction. Even in my 7.1 environment, it was stunningly enveloping. Bass response is thunderous at times, and dialogue has been well-recorded and isn’t drowned out by the music.
Special Features: 3.5/5
On the UHD disc, the only bonus feature is Musical Moments (28.33, UHD) which can take the viewer to any one of eleven musical moments in the movie. A “Play All” feature is included.
This is also present on the accompanying Blu-ray disc along with the following additional bonuses:
The Road to Stardom: Making A Star Is Born (30:02, HD): Bradley Cooper discusses his three-year journey to bring his vision of the story to the screen, also discussing the screen test he did with Lady Gaga prior to filming and his lessons in singing and playing the guitar and piano in trying to reach a Neil Young sound and style. He’s abetted in his discussion of the film’s production by co-stars Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, Anthony Ramos, and Rafi Gavron and director of photography Matthew Libatique and songwriter Mark Ronson.
Jam Sessions and Rareties (HD): music videos and tests of songs that didn’t make it into the finished film:
- “Baby What You Want Me to Do” (2:22): Bradley Cooper
- “Midnight Special” (2:41): Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga
- “Is that Alright?” (1:58) Lady Gaga music video
Music Videos (HD)
- “Shallow” (3:37): Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
- “Always Remember Us This Way” (4:04): Lady Gaga
- “Look What I Found” (3:18): Lady Gaga
- “I’ll Never Love Again” (4:54): Lady Gaga
The most recent version of A Star Is Born is an affecting, mostly well-told show business story featuring outstanding songs and illuminating performances. It’s a particular triumph for Bradley Cooper who not only co-produced the film but also directed, co-wrote, and starred in it. The UHD release offers outstanding visuals and stupendous sound for a vital, vibrant at-home experience. Recommended!