Under the Radar

'A Star Is Born': Fourth Time's the Charm

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga star in "A Star is Born." (Warner Bros.)

Bradley Cooper took all the leverage and goodwill he generated with his Oscar-nominated performance as Chris Kyle in the wildly profitable movie "American Sniper" and used it to write, direct and star in the fourth version of that perennial showbiz story, "A Star Is Born" (out now on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital).

It's the idea behind "A Star is Born" that sticks with audiences more than the actual movies: An aging, alcoholic star meets a younger, gifted performer and helps make her famous. He can't handle her success, and things get weird.

Previous movies starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March (1937), Judy Garland and James Mason (1954), and Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson (1976) just aren't that good. Every version of the movie has been a commercial hit, but the four films have a combined 25 Oscar nominations and only three competitive wins.

The current version stars Lady Gaga as an aspiring singer named Ally that Cooper's rock star Jackson Maine meets after he sees her sing live as the non-drag special guest at a drag show. They fall in love, her career takes off, and then he goes to rehab. The current version doesn't change the ending familiar to anyone who's seen the other versions.

Cooper learned how to sing and play music to make this movie, something that's a stark contrast to Rami Malek's (still quite amazing) lip-syncing for his Oscar-winning performance in "Bohemian Rhapsody." Cooper's been on an astonishing run this decade with Oscar-nominated starring roles in "Silver Linings Playbook," "American Hustle," "American Sniper" and "A Star Is Born." That's not counting the buckets of money generated by his performances in the "Hangover" movies and as the voice of Rocket Raccoon in the Marvel universe.

What would have been interesting is a more critical eye on the showbiz culture that inspired the original story and has carried through for almost a century in every subsequent version. Ally gets famous only when a guy validates her talent, and she's too naive to understand the toxic manipulation that her sleazebag manager Rez uses to get her to make the "necessary" compromises for her career. Even when faced with a moment where she can take control of her own story, she still identifies herself as Jack's wife.

That's probably too much deep thinking about a movie that's still really good in spite of those flaws, but it's hard to ignore those thoughts at a moment when male artists are getting called out for behavior that's definitely worse but not too much different from what Jack's up to in this movie.

The bonus features here are excellent, and you get a sense of just how much making this movie meant to everyone involved. All the actors are brought in for discussions with Cooper and Gaga, and so are the musicians and songwriters they worked with on the film.

There's enormous respect shared by the two leads as they discuss how each had to learn the other's craft to make the movie. You get the sense that we'll be seeing a Gaga/Cooper commentary version of this movie released in a few years.

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