Lady Gaga steals the show in A Star Is Born

by Fiona Rae / 21 October, 2018
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Lady Gaga's trajectory as an actor is in no doubt in Bradley Cooper’s take on a classic showbiz tale.

Bradley Cooper is an in-your-face director. In everyone’s faces, actually. There’s nary a wide angle in his remake of one of the great cinematic tales, nor even a medium one; by the end of the movie his cinematographer, Matthew Libatique (Black Swan, Mother!), must have been really sick of carrying that hand-held camera.

Perhaps it’s the actor in the director. Cooper, as musician Jackson Maine, is ready for his close-up, even if he is sometimes hiding in shame behind his hat.

Nevertheless, it’s an astonishingly confident debut from an actor who clearly has ambitions beyond voicing a CGI racoon in Guardians of the Galaxy. Filmed over 42 days, A Star Is Born includes a number of music festivals, including Coachella and Glastonbury, a mock Grammy Awards and a pretend Saturday Night Live.

Cooper not only directs, but co-wrote the script, sings, plays guitar and, good grief, co-wrote some of the songs. He has assembled musicians such as Lukas Nelson (son of Willie), Mark Ronson and Diane Warren to contribute to the soundtrack.

He has also had the supreme good taste to bring in New Zealander Marlon Williams and to let his glorious voice soar, albeit briefly, during a Roy Orbison tribute.

Then there’s the acting star to whom he gives birth: Stefani Germanotta, aka Lady Gaga. She began her acting career in Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story: Hotel (for which she won a Golden Globe), but that was performance art compared to the rawness she summons to play an ordinary waitress with an extraordinary voice.

As soon as Ally opens her throat to sing La Vie en Rose at the drag bar where Maine has turned up in search of a drink, her trajectory is not in doubt: Maine gets her on stage to sing; he takes her on tour; she starts performing on her own. Before you know it, she’s become Lady Gaga.

If you know of any of the previous three versions of A Star Is Born, you’ll know that Maine’s trajectory is also set, but Cooper has done a switcheroo. Despite the title, the movie is really about Maine and his numerous demons. His daddy was a deadbeat, his momma plain dead, he was raised by his brother (Sam Elliott), who is now his manager. He is a drunk, an addict and he’s losing his hearing. Did his dog die? Most likely.

Ally, on the other hand, is a tabula rasa. We learn little about her apart from her overarching talent. She is a motherless child living at home with her dad (Andrew Dice Clay). There are almost no other women in the movie; even her best friend is a guy (Anthony Ramos).

But we buy into Cooper’s world of woozy close-ups and lens flare, even though, with a voice like that, Ally could have signed up for The X Factor and saved herself the heartache.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★★

Video: Warner Bros Pictures

This article was first published in the October 27, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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