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Here’s What Critics Are Saying About A Star Is Born

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga performing on stage in A Star Is Born
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born.
Warner Bros.

To Lady Gaga’s legions of fans, it probably doesn’t matter if A Star Is Born is any good—the Little Monsters are going to turn out to see her first big movie star role anyway. But fortunately for them, it is. It seems a star is reborn in A Star Is Born.

Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, in which he acts opposite Gaga as an aging rocker whose star falls as hers rises, is a “transcendent Hollywood movie” according to critics. The 2018 remake of the 1976 remake of the 1954 remake of the 1937 film is being compared favorably to the ones before it, as well as to movies in general.

Here are critics’ starry-eyed impressions of A Star Is Born:

Unsurprisingly, comparisons to (and reveries upon) the earlier version abound …

Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian:

It’s the romantic epic of male sacrificial woundedness and it’s been regenerating like Doctor Who. We had it in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason and originally way back in 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. It’s even been regenerating obliquely in movies such as The Artist and La La Land … Cooper and veteran screenwriter Eric Roth are clearly inspired most directly by the Streisand/Kristofferson film. But in those closeups that Cooper awards himself, and his huge moments of emotional agony … well, he’s channelling a bit of Judy.

Stephanie Zacharek, Time:

If you’re looking for comparisons to Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland or Barbara Streisand, the other Star Is Born stars (this is the third or fourth remake, depending on whether or not you count George Cukor’s 1932 What Price Hollywood?), Gaga isn’t much like any of them: She’s more like Liza Minnelli, who channeled some of her mother’s fragility but tempered it with pluckiness. When Gaga’s Ally sings, she’s less a creature from over the rainbow than a sprite from another world who has quickly learned the ropes of our own fire and earth.

Owen Gleiberman, Variety:

The 1976 version, starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, had some terrific cornball love songs, but they didn’t belong anywhere near the stadium-rock stage, and neither did Streisand, which is part of why the movie came off as borderline ludicrous. It seemed stranded, with a kind of campy sincere ineptitude, between three worlds: Old Hollywood, New Hollywood, and Barbra Streisand rock-princess fantasy. … The best version of A Star Is Born has always been the 1954 George Cukor version: moody, purplish, extravagant, driven by Judy Garland’s self-dramatizing fever.

David Rooney, the Hollywood Reporter:

Those qualities spare the movie from falling into the vanity-project trap of the last remake, the engorged 1976 version with Barbra Streisand that shifted the story from Hollywood to the music industry and provides the bones for this iteration. Cooper does bear similarities here to Streisand’s co-star Kris Kristofferson, though he tones down the corrosive bitterness.

… but this one comes out on top.

Owen Gleiberman, Variety:

She takes off as he slowly crashes — that’s the soapy tragic Star Is Born concept. But what the movie does is to take this fabled melodramatic romantic seesaw and turn it into something indelibly heartfelt and revealing. … That’s part of the magnetic pull of this version—it, too, is a romance heightened by the seductive cruel mirror of showbiz. Yet it has a naked humanity that leaves you wowed.

Stephanie Zacharek, Time:

Cooper’s version proves there’s always a way to freshen up old material.

For most critics, that is, but not all.

David Rooney, the Hollywood Reporter:

But while this is not going to replace either the 1937 Janet Gaynor-Fredric March original or especially the beloved 1954 Judy Garland-James Mason remake as the classic version, Cooper’s fresh take finds plenty of mileage left in the well-trod showbiz saga.

It successfully captures the rock world…

Owen Gleiberman, Variety:

[T]he movie is thrillingly authentic. That’s no minor accomplishment. Hollywood almost never succeeds in nailing the rock world, but A Star Is Born, though a love story through and through, is the most lived-in rock ‘n’ roll movie since Almost Famous. And that absolute looks rightsounds rightfeels right verisimilitude sets the stage for everything that follows.

… and has much to say about the nature of fame in music.

Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian:

For all that it’s hokum, this film alludes tactlessly to something pretty real. It could be called: A Star Is Dying. The new generation supplants the existing one. For one star to get an award, a handful of defeated nominees have to swallow their pain, as the spotlight moves away from them. For one star to deliver the shock of the new, another one has to receive the shock of the old. 

Owen Gleiberman, Variety:

Ally gets plugged into the 21st-century pop machine—high-dazzle robotic choreography, a new glam look with flaming red hair, the whole media swirl, complete with meticulously timed rollout performance on Saturday Night Live—and we realize that the film is playing off Lady Gaga’s own rise. The fascination of this is that instead of satirizing Ally’s journey as some sort of plunge into synthetic marketing decadence, the movie says, in essence: This is the new landscape, same as the old landscape. … The movie says that in pop (as in life), it’s always time for the old ways to die, and for the new ways to be born.

… or does it?

David Rooney, the Hollywood Reporter:

There’s a potentially rich subtext here about the constricting ways in which women are packaged for success in the music industry and the narrow reality of what sells in contemporary pop. But the script by Eric Roth, Cooper and Will Fetters declines to explore that path, representing a missed opportunity.

Gaga, ooh-la-la …

Owen Gleiberman, Variety:

[W]hen she emerges from the dressing room minus all the Gaga trappings, we’re shocked to see a young woman with softly falling straight brown hair and the sweetest of chiclet-tooth grins, and this is the movie’s way of saying: Ladies and gentlemen, meet Lady Gaga, actress. A character we haven’t seen before. … Ally, makes no mistake, has sass to spare (later that evening, when Jackson is confronted at his favorite cop bar by a man he cuckolded, she gives him a punch), but Gaga, in an ebullient and winningly direct performance, never lets her own star quality get in the way of the character. Or, rather, she lets us see that star quality is something that lives inside Ally but is still waiting to come out (the way it was in the young Streisand of “Funny Girl”).

Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian:

He appears opposite a sensationally good Lady Gaga, whose ability to be part ordinary person, part extraterrestrial celebrity empress functions at the highest level at all times… Cooper is arguably prettier than Lady Gaga, but she is the one who commands your attention: that sharp, quizzical, leonine, mesmeric face—an uningratiating face, very different from the wide-eyed openness of Streisand or Garland.

… though many agree she’s better before her superstar makeover.

David Rooney, the Hollywood Reporter:

Where the movie becomes more pedestrian is in Ally’s conquest of superstardom. It’s a big disappointment that she trades her authenticity to become, well, an ersatz Lady Gaga. Groomed by aggressive British starmaker Rez (Rafi Gavron), she gets a flashy image makeover with brassy red hair, a hotter wardrobe and a team of backup dancers. Paradoxically, it makes the character less attractive.

Stephanie Zacharek, Time:

But what’s surprising about Gaga is how charismatic she is without her usual extreme stage makeup, outlandish wigs and inventive costumes. It’s such a pleasure to look at her face, unadorned, with that extraordinary, face-defining nose—it’s like discovering a new country. Later in the story, as Ally’s career takes off while Jackson’s fizzles, Gaga is less entrancing though no less likable: Ally connects with a manager who reshapes her image (Rafi Gavron), turning her from a fresh-faced singer-songwriter to a pop siren with hyper-red hair and increasingly theatrical clothes. This is where the movie loses a few puffs of steam. It’s hard not to miss Ally’s unadorned face and unflashy brown hair: You might find yourself wanting more Germanotta and less Gaga.

Cooper is excellent, both as an actor…

Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian:

Meanwhile Cooper, whose screen persona can so often be bland and unchallenging, makes precisely this conservative tendency work for him in the role. He is so sad you want to hug him.

David Rooney, the Hollywood Reporter:

His natural charisma also enables him to soften the self-destructive edges of veteran musician Jackson Maine, locating the resilient humanity that celebrity, personal demons and alcohol and drug abuse haven’t been able to crush. There’s real warmth and a sexy spark in his onscreen chemistry with Gaga that makes their characters’ instant connection believable.

Stephanie Zacharek, Time:

The basic Star is Born story is geared so you pity the man almost more than you admire the woman. In every version, the man threatens to steal the show with his own degradation; the woman’s protective fortitude is far less interesting. But as an actor, Cooper fades into the corner at just the right moments, allowing Gaga to shine. He recognizes that as a performer, she’s larger than life; he’s just about life-sized, and there’s no shame in that.

… and as a first-time director.

Owen Gleiberman, Variety:

Cooper directed the movie himself, working from a script he co-wrote with Eric Roth and Will Fetters, and to say that he does a good job would be to understate his accomplishment. As a filmmaker, Bradley Cooper gets right onto the high wire, staging scenes that take their time and play out with a shaggy intimacy that’s shorn of the usual “beats.” The new Star Is Born is a total emotional knockout, but it’s also a movie that gets you to believe, at every step, in the complicated rapture of the story it’s telling…. Cooper has made a jaggedly tender love story that is never over-the-top, an operatic movie that dares to be quiet.

Stephanie Zacharek, Time:

[H]e keeps the filmmaking straightforward and unvarnished. It’s wonderful to see a first-time filmmaker who’s more interested in effective storytelling than in impressing us; telling a story effectively is hard enough.

Finally, there’s a sense that this movie isn’t just good—it’s something we need.

Stephanie Zacharek, Time:

There’s only one antidote for the weird world we live in, an age of political anxiety, Instagram envy, humorless personal essays that treat basic life experiences like major tragedies, and selfies: We need more melodramas, movies that show human beings making all sorts of wrong choices, falling in love with people from whom they should run a mile, and in the end recovering lost bits of themselves, all while looking fabulous.

Owen Gleiberman, Variety:

A Star Is Born is that thing we always yearn for but so rarely get to see: a transcendent Hollywood movie.