Can Lady Gaga act? If so, then a new movie star is born
Bradley Cooper directs the fourth adaptation of classic film A Star is Born.
Even before it’s release Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star Is Born has been the hot tip for next year’s Best Picture Oscar. The buzz around the film has been intense because it is not only Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut but its the big screen debut for singer-songwriter and all round creative, Lady Gaga.
The question on everyone’s lips is she going to be a modern day Madonna or a contemporary David Bowie? In other words is she a singer who is just going to be herself or a performer who can shed her on stage persona and just disappear into a role?
Happily for Bradley Cooper – and for us – Lady Gaga turns out to be a current David Bowie. She is a terrific actor as well as a musician and she makes the part of Ally, a waitress-cum-aspiring musician, entirely convincing.
This is the fourth time this heartbreaking tale of talent and sacrifice has been told and it has some big shoes to fill. A Star Is Born first hit the screen in 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. This was received well but was eclipsed by the 1954 remake with Judy Garland and James Mason which has gone down as a timeless classic.
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In 1976 Barbra Streisand decided to update the story and make her own version opposite country-rocker, Kris Kristofferson. Whereas the previous two films were rewarded with heavyweight Oscar nominations, Streisand’s film only came away with the Best Song award.
To be honest, the Barbra Streisand version is little more than a vanity project. The best re-makes are those which re-imagine movies which don’t quite work. Bradley Cooper’s version of A Star Is Born is very much based on Streisand’s 1976 version of the film and is vastly superior because it strikes an emotional chord which the Streisand version missed. It just seemed too calculated.
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This latest version is a much more assured and the emotion much more honest. This is largely down to the restrained acting from Cooper as a past his prime country-rocker Jackson Maine, Sam Elliot as his road manager brother Bobby and Lady Gaga as singer-girlfriend Ally.
The film has an Almost Famous feel which gives the film more of hefty live performance vibe and gives the soundtrack a cracking contemporary country/singer-songwriter feel.
The power of the film lies in the strong connection between Cooper and Lady Gaga. They share terrific chemistry on screen and you believe that these two are artistically and emotionally bound together for better or worse.
They meet in a drag-cabaret bar when Maine stumbles in desperately searching for a post-gig drink. Waitress Ally is the only female singer allowed to perform there, having been adopted by the drag acts, Maine is immediately taken by her talent (she delivers a sensational, reworked verson of La Vie En Rose) and persuades her to accompany him on a date/late-night drive around town which then is followed by an invitation (complete with driver and car) to the following night’s gig.
The heart of the film is the immediate emotional connection they share which is explored on these first meetings. Because their bond is so strong, you understand why they stay together when things get tough later on in the movie.
There are some great songs/live gig sequences which punctuate the action and underscore the emotional rollercoaster ride which provides the drama in the film.
Lady Gaga is entirely natural and becomes Ally, a versatile singer-songwriter. It is easy to forget that you are watching Lady Gaga. Bradley Cooper equally is a revelation. He writes some of his own songs and he is backed by Neil Young’s backing band.
Cooper deserves special praise for underplaying the drunk side of Jackson’s personality. It’s never over done. He’s a long-term drunk. He knows how to cope but gradually it becomes clear that he is losing control. He is a big star, he plays to huge crowds but apart from Ally, his life has lost its sparkle.
It’s a hugely touching film. It’s heartwarming and heartbreaking. You will shed a tear or two but you will also come away with a restored appreciation of the power of live music. Roll on the Best Picture and Best Actor nominations.
A Star Is Born, dir: Bradley Cooper; Starring: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle and Andrew Dice Clay. Cert: 15