It seems once every generation A Star Is Born needs to be remade. The latest, co-written, co-produced, and directed by co-star Bradley Cooper, is the fourth film version, the first since the 1976 release starring Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Cooper and Grammy Award-winning artist Lady Gaga contribute to a brave and emotional film that is an instant Oscar contender. At the same time, Cooper looks like he can do anything because not only can he act, write, produce and direct, but the man can also sing.

A Star Is Born is a dramatic love story which sees two musicians going in opposite directions. Jackson Maine (Cooper), while on tour, stumbles upon a drag bar and sees Ally (Lady Gaga), a server moonlighting as a singer-songwriter, performing. They meet backstage and hang out all night, their nocturnal adventures highlighted by a song Ally wrote and sang to Jackson in a grocery store parking lot. This proves to be a life-changing encounter – Jackson invites Ally to one of his shows and blindsides her by inviting her onstage to perform her song in front of thousands. This proves to be one of many touching moments in Cooper’s directorial debut and takes full advantage of the chemistry the pair provides.

A Star Is Born is a film and outlet for exceptional music, so both aspects need to stand out. The music is a character, with the new original work written mainly by Lukas Nelson (son of Willie Nelson). Lady Gaga, of course, co-wrote and provided vocals, and the music is diverse and helps tell the film’s story with authenticity and heart. The highlight is Shallow, a song which is a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination.

Because she’s known for her music, it wasn’t surprising to see Lady Gaga belting out tunes with ease. The question coming in is can she act. It’s likely that only her biggest fans know this, but Gaga studied acting, so it was just a matter of when she’d be able to show off what she’s learned. At one time a role reserved for Beyoncé, Gaga turns in a memorable performance, punctuated by playing a character that’s stripped down, emotionally bare and hungry for her music to be heard. I found it amusing that Ally began as a no-nonsense artist when she debuted onstage with Jackson, but as her star took flight her image began to resemble Lady Gaga’s real-life presence. It almost looks like Lady Gaga, through Ally, is fighting against the things that made her what she is today. She’s daring us to forget what you already know and see – judge her by what you hear. Despite the art-imitating life motif, Lady Gaga is fantastic and one of the main reasons why this A Star Is Born works.

With Lady Gaga making such a lasting impression, it’s up to Cooper to hold serve. Cooper took on a lot of responsibility – he co-wrote (with Eric Roth and Will Fetters); he co-starred; he directed; he co-produced; he even sang. And since Cooper’s never helmed a film before it’s understandable to wonder if he could pull it off. Based on the final product, he did… and did it impressively. Cooper’s direction included excellent cinematography (with help from Oscar-nominated cinematographer Matthew Libatique), lasting images and artistic choices which highlighted both Lady Gaga’s and his strengths. The story he helped write is a modern tale, which means younger viewers will see something relatable, while older audiences who’ve seen the previous incarnations of A Star Is Born will see a fresh and sincere take on this rags to riches story.

Bradley Cooper did an amazing job as director, producer and writer, but when it’s all said and done he is a phenomenal actor. As Jackson Maine, Cooper successfully portrays a musician who has overcome tinnitus to become a star. But Jackson endured a tough childhood where his significantly older brother Bobby (Sam Elliott, in an award-worthy performance) raised him. Jackson’s past has led to alcoholism and drug abuse, and his addictions grow as his star dims. Jackson’s life spirals out of control and it affects his relationship with Ally, who’s become his wife. There’s a point where Noodles (Dave Chappelle), a retired musician and Jackson’s close friend, tells Jackson, after finding him passed out on the sidewalk, “It’s the first time I’m worried about you.” The concern drops like a bomb because a longtime friend is actually worried and because Cooper is so convincing conveying his personal tragedy. Add to it Cooper’s Eddie Vedder-inspired singing and Cooper has become an Oscar frontrunner. We may have witnessed Lady Gaga’s birth as a movie star, but the film’s true star is Cooper.

Thanks to Cooper’s star power, there are a few interesting cameos. That isn’t the sole reason to watch A Star Is Born but it’s a nice bonus. This is an amazing feature and full of emotion, heart, pain and love. The only drawback is it’s a little long. It’s deliberately paced, so its 135-minute running time feels longer. This would be near-perfect had Cooper trimmed 15-20 minutes. Regardless, A Star Is Born is beautiful work.

4 stars out of 5

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