There is a stunning opening scene in “A Star Is Born” where Ally (Lady Gaga) sings the French classic, “La Vie En Rose,” at a drag bar and sitting in the audience is an inebriated rock star (Bradley Cooper) who falls instantly for the singer and her voice. What happens to him on screen also happened to me in the theater — you might call it a complicated case of instant attraction.
“A Star Is Born” knocked me out on multiple levels, from the screenwriting (Cooper) to the music (Cooper and Gaga) to the intimate cinematography by Matthew Libatique (“Black Swan,” “Requiem For A Dream,” “Inside Man”), to the films’ confident direction (Cooper), and finally to the beautiful, Oscar-level performances by Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay and Dave Chappelle.
Something is going on here that rarely happens with first-time filmmakers, especially those who transition from acting. Robert Redford did it in 1980 with “Ordinary People,” Kevin Costner did it in 1990 with “Dances With Wolves,” Greta Gerwig did it last year with “Lady Bird,” so did Warren Beatty (“Heaven Can Wait”) and Orson Wells (“Citizen Cane”).
Making Oscar contending, even Oscar winning, films their first time out is an impressive feat that needs to be honored. It’s too early to tell, but I’m presumptively adding Bradley Cooper and his film to the list.
And then there’s Lady Gaga, who jumps off the screen with such natural empathy it makes you believe everything she is saying and singing.
There is a beautiful, revealing, early scene in the film sitting outside on the pavement of a late night grocery store where both characters sing private lyrics to each other. It’s such an intimate, lovely sequence you don’t want it to end.
And it doesn’t, because shortly after Ally is standing backstage during one of his “live concerts,” he coaxes her on stage to sing before thousands the song she started on the pavement the night before. It’s a magic moment for an actress, an actor, a filmmaker, and an audience.
The second half of “A Star Is Born,” drifts intentionally into a gut punch of alcoholism, substance abuse, fame, family, insecurity, mansplaining and a dog that you will always remember.
It’s just as good as the first half, but more difficult and demanding. Remember, great movies are not always your friend, your buddy or your pal. If it speaks the truth, it should hurt, and this one does.
It’s a long way until the Oscar nominations in January and dozens of contending films are on the way. But, in early October, we have a film that is both thrilling and meaningful with a new director and a fabulous new actress.