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Review: A Star Is Born

About a week after I first saw the latest version of A Star Is Born, I took advantage of a rainy weekend to catch up on the 1937 original, the 1954 remake, and the 1976 remake of the remake. Then I watched the latest version again. And I can honestly say, the newest one is my favorite, in part because it draws on the best parts of all its predecessors while bringing the classic tragic love story into present-day context, complete with an awesome original soundtrack. We’ll surely be hearing at least one of those songs at this year’s Oscars.

And seriously, who knew Bradley Cooper (The Hangover, Silver Linings Playbook, American Sniper) could sing?! He more than holds his own musically, as both a solo performer and in duets with Lady Gaga. And who knew Lady Gaga could act? She more than holds her own in her first leading role in a major motion picture. She portrays Ally, a struggling singer-songwriter who gets her big break when discovered and mentored by country-rock musician Jackson Maine (Cooper).

In a nutshell, Ally and Jackson fall in love and make beautiful music together. But as Ally’s star begins to rise to meteoric heights, Jackson’s star comes crashing down in a self-destructive frenzy fueled by alcoholism, drug abuse, jealousy and personal demons that have chased him since childhood. Can Ally’s love save him? Have you seen any of the previous films?

The heart of the narrative remains unchanged since 1937, when Janet Gaynor and Frederic March played Hollywood actors – one rising to stardom, the other falling from grace. There was no music in that one, no rolls in the proverbial hay. But it features an old-school chemistry and searing kiss that beats the heat of all its successors. It won the Academy Award for ‘best original story’, laying the groundwork for a string of adaptations befitting the times.

In 1954, A Star Is Born shifted into full-on movie-musical mode, starring Judy Garland and James Mason. At nearly three-hours’ long, it includes an “intermission” and several production stills, to replace footage that was lost in a well-intentioned effort to trim it down. Mason grew on me as the male lead, but it really needed to be Cary Grant or Montgomery Clift. Both apparently declined the role because Garland was having “issues.” Ah, the irony.

Fast forward to 1976, and you get a new variation on the theme – in the form of a music drama starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. It’s my least favorite of the bunch, but did give us the Oscar-winning song “Evergreen”.

And now, here we are. 2018. Bradley Cooper directed, co-wrote and stars in a version of A Star Is Born most closely aligned to the 1976 film, but with plenty of homages to the past and a firm foothold in the present. This movie is Cooper’s baby all the way. And it’s a winner. A directorial star is born.

Bring tissues.


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