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TIFF Review: A Star is Born – “Bradley Cooper’s dazzling directorial debut”

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The roar of the crowd is deafening.  You can feel it in your chest and your ears object to the insult but it’s like you’re right there up on stage.  Lights go up, and with heart pounding, music begins to play.  But first, there are pills to be popped and all the booze that comes after.  Such is the electric opening of Bradley Cooper‘s dazzling directorial debut, A Star is Born.

When the aforementioned show is finished, Jackson Maine (Cooper) stops in at a drag bar, looking only for his next drink.  Instead what he finds is Ally (Lady Gaga), taking the stage in a rousing rendition of La Vie En Rose.  The two share a drink together.  They talk songwriting, composing on the fly in a grocery store parking lot.  It’s clear to Jackson that Ally’s talented, she just has never been given the chance to believe it.  What ensues is a whirlwind romance all occurring while Ally’s star starts to rise and Jackson’s alcohol induced decline takes hold.

This is the fourth incarnation of A Star is Born, so if you’ve seen others, especially the 1976 version, then you know approximately how this story goes, yet there are enough changes here that you’ll still be entertained.  And how can you not be with these two leads?  Their chemistry is undeniable, and perhaps most surprising is how Cooper manages to hold his own singing next to Lady Gaga, whose talent in that regard is irrefutable.  While on that subject, everything you may have heard about her performance is true.  When she first takes stage next to Jackson… goosebumps.  She is luminous as Ally, a strong and determined woman who is a stark contrast to Cooper’s increasingly dishevelled Jackson.  Both stars put up career defining performances here.  Supported by a not surprisingly excellent Sam Elliott and a (sadly) brief role by Dave Chappelle, everyone shines.

With music Cooper co-wrote with Lukas Nelson (son of Willie Nelson) as well as some Gaga originals, the film’s soundtrack will likely be on order as soon as you leave the theatre.  Any part of the film that lags (and there aren’t many) are quickly elevated due to its music and its stars.  Cooper has proven himself as a director with this modern retelling of a formulaic tale that feels polished and new.  He is a talented storyteller, something that will likely be demonstrated yet again come Oscar season.

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