By Richard Roeper

Chicago Sun-Times

“A Star is Born”

136 minutes

Rating: R for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity and substance abuse

Every once in a great while, you experience a movie moment so beautiful and so exhilarating, it truly does take your breath away and maybe brings a tear to your eye.

In Bradley Cooper’s electric and shatteringly powerful “A Star Is Born,” such a moment occurs relatively early.

Cooper’s world-famous and world-weary country-rock star Jackson Maine is playing to thousands of adoring fans. Standing in the wings is Lady Gaga’s Ally, an unknown singer/songwriter who has recently captivated Jackson on multiple levels. She is just here to watch.

To Ally’s surprise, Jackson begins to perform one of Ally’s songs. He beckons Ally to join him. Ally takes a deep breath, walks out there and begins to sing.

As her voice soars to the heavens and back, just like that:

A star is born.

Fine, that sounds sentimental and a little corny and very Hollywood — but one of the many wonderful surprises in “A Star Is Born” is how director/co-writer/leading man Cooper strikes the perfect balance between a showbiz fable with emotional histrionics and performance numbers and a finely honed, intimate story with universal truths and experiences hardly unique to the entertainment world.

This is the fourth “A Star Is Born,” following the nonmusical original from 1937; the 1954 film with Judy Garland and James Mason, and the 1976 hit starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. On paper, this seems like a safe, mainstream vehicle for Cooper’s directorial debut — but given Cooper has never performed music and Lady Gaga has never headlined a movie, and if either or both failed miserably we’d be talking Razzies instead of Oscars, there’s something bold and brave about tackling this material.

They pulled it off and then some.

Lady Gaga is a winning, natural presence, even in the scenes where she’s nowhere near a piano or a microphone. Cooper’s guitar and growling baritone vocal work is so solid, if someone played you a Jackson Maine song and you didn’t know it was the actor Bradley Cooper, it’s quite possible you’d believe it was the work of a real veteran music star.

It all begins, as it almost has to begin, with Jackson meeting Ally by chance. In search of a late-night bar, Jackson stumbles into a drag club just in time to see Lady Gaga’s Ally belt out an intoxicating, show-stopping take on “La Vie En Rose.”

Jackson is instantly enchanted and intrigued on a number of levels. Ally can’t believe THE Jackson Maine was out there in the audience, just sitting at the bar, when she performed.

Jackson wants to know if Ally would like to hang out. Um, yeah, she would.

But the touching manner in which the night plays out is an early indication we’re in for something special, even as it takes us through the expected bittersweet stages of the Jackson-Ally romance, with Jackson spiraling deeper and deeper into an addiction-fueled tunnel while Ally’s career soars.

The outstanding supporting cast includes Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s loving and supportive father, a limo driver convinced he was a better singer than Sinatra; Dave Chappelle as Jackson’s best friend, Noodles; and the great Sam Elliott as Jackson’s much older big brother, Bobby, who has been Jackson’s manager, babysitter and PR fire extinguisher for far too long.

This is the best “A Star Is Born” yet, and one of the best movies of the year.

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