Cooper's egomania aside, I still found his movie less impressive than the glowing reviews led me to expect. Yes, it's well enough directed, Cooper's performance is excellent (probably Oscar-worthy), and Gaga acquits herself well. But it's no masterpiece and I seriously doubt that Gaga's performance will stand alongside Garland's or Streisand's in either film history or moviegoers' affections. She's great in the few musical moments where she is allowed to shine, but none of her musical sequences have the dramatic impact of Woman in the Moon or the With One More Look At You/Watch Closely Now finale from Streisand's movie. Nor do they come anywhere near the sublime musical heights of The Man That Got Away or the Born In A Trunk sequence from Garland's movie. I'm also inclined to think Gaga is sabotaged twice over in the film - first by the drab, make-up free, girl-next-door look she's given in the first half, then, rather more seriously, by the utterly hideous star makeover that lumbers her with an unflattering red wig that could have come from the drag bar featured early in the film. Without the make-up she's vaguely pretty if you're being generous. Post-makeover she looks like a cos-play fan at Comic Con. Even worse is the musical makeover Ally gets. Say what you like about how Streisand never meshed with the rock setting of her film, at least her musical numbers showcased her unique talent and she was thrillingly herself. Gaga, on the other hand, is required to morph into some gyrating Beyonce/J-Lo hybrid that does nothing to highlight her real and genuine talent.
And here's where I have another serious issue with Cooper's film. In all previous incarnations the heroine fights against attempts to package her as something she's not. She becomes more herself through the rise to stardom. Esther Blodgett becomes Vicki Lester, but she baulks at any extreme makeover. Esther Hoffman defiantly keeps both her name and her style. Ally, in Coopers' version, submits to both a musical and personal makeover without any real protest - and with seemingly no awareness that the physical makeover makes her look ridiculous. In the final scene she's ditched the red hair, but that's the only sign she might be standing up for herself. Ally is also more submissive generally. Jackson is already pretty far gone when they meet, so she knows he's doomed. But she goes there anyway, which makes her something of a masochist and rather more of a victim. And when she's not trying to keep Jackson in line, Ally is running around cleaning up after her widowed father. There's no mention of Ally's mother, only a passing mention of Jackson's mother, but a great deal of talk about his father, and much screen time devoted to the tortured relationship with his older brother. All in all, it's a very male film, more concerned with male characters and male relationships. Ally gets a male best friend too. And the only "women" in her life are drag queens. This movie sure doesn't pass the Bechdel test. Indeed, it offers up a classic case of female erasure. So where Streisand's film is consciously feminist, with points to make about women's place in the world and in relationships, and a determination NOT to depict Esther as a victim, Cooper downplays Ally's strength and independence in favour of a narrative about men and their problems. In fact, if it weren't for the 70s fashions you could quite easily believe that Coopers movie was made in the 70s and Streisand's was made today. To that extent Streisand's movie has a sense of social purpose that Coopers' entirely lacks.
In short, I'd suggest Streisand's A Star Is Born deserves to be very favourably re-assessed in the wake of Cooper's film. Yes, the Streisand film was a vanity project. But hardly more so than Cooper's. Yes, her film was flawed and compromised, and copped a lot of flak. Cooper's film is, in my view, rather more seriously flawed, yet has attracted mostly unstinting praise. It sure pays to be a man in Hollywood.