‘A Star is Born’ review: Lady Gaga’s evolutionary popstar fantasy

Gaga proves she is a bonafide triple threat in her umpteenth grand career entrance.

“A Star is Born” is admittedly the kind of movie I’d love to bash. It’s the kind that cynics will dismiss entirely or watch reluctantly behind their rolling eyes. Every scene is so obviously engineered to evoke an emotional response that it seems impossible for the movie to actually do so, not to mention this is the fourth iteration of a story told over many years starring Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, respectively. Most recently, however, Lady Gaga sings and acts the timeworn Hollywood fantasy back to swinging modern life. Along with co-star Bradley Cooper, who debuts his deft hand at directing, this musical drama is a total emotional knockout that explores artistry with a sense of respect and integrity.

When viewers meet Ally (Gaga), she’s humming a Garland tune while taking out the trash at her restaurant job. By day she’s a waitress but by night she’s a singer at a drag bar. This is a welcoming environment for the character as Gaga herself was ushered into stardom largely by the queer community. These scenes are the first of many that made me believe in the story’s authenticity. During her performance of “La Vie en rose,” Ally interacts with the crowd and locks eyes with Jackson Maine (Cooper), a big-name country rockstar who attempts to drown out the silence of his post-concert solitude with booze. There’s a sensation of longing and recognition in this exchange that surpasses a simple glance and attaches the lonely hearts to each other as well as the viewers to the movie.

One revelation bleeds into the next as Jack and Ally share their mutual admiration for each other during the night while riffing on some new songwriting material in a vacant parking lot. The following night, they’re on stage together singing that very song in what is a completely unrealistic sequence of events that I immediately pardoned due to the film’s irresistibly fantastical nature and quality of “Shallow,” the centerpiece song that’s begging for an Oscar come this March. The film’s multi-genre soundtrack is written largely by Gaga, who performs each song with every ounce of her being live in front of the camera.

Even as the narrative reaches very high stakes, it rarely skips a beat in its two-hour and 17-minute running time. There are several side characters that strengthen the story to various degrees, such as Sam Elliott as Jack’s much older brother and Anthony Ramos as Ally’s supportive friend. Fairing worse is Dave Chappelle, who is underused in a dramatic role for one key scene in the middle of the movie that doesn’t quite fit with the former and latter halves. The central romance is so carefully considered that it’s easy to overlook some of the most impetuous parts. With this level of sweeping, high-profile emotion, the efforts of the artists at work can’t be dismissed.

A film about big dreams and creativity lends itself to showy performances and flashy images, but this one never succumbs to the temptation of being just that. Instead, it is genuinely concerned with how a person becomes an artist and how we as people find our voices through experiences of love, fear and perseverance. “A Star is Born” updates a classic love story for contemporary audiences by convincingly depicting both the light and dark sides of resilience.

Edited by Siena DeBolt | sdebolt@themaneater.com

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