By Pat Mullen
The phrase “Academy Award Winner Lady Gaga” might be a reality next year. Lady Gaga gives the performance of a lifetime as Ally, the upstart singer rising to fame in A Star is Born. Lady Gaga delivers an outstandingly good turn that draws upon her thunderous vocals and electrifying stage presence.
Even more impressive than Lady Gaga’s star turn is actor Bradley Cooper’s assured hand in his debut as director. Cooper helms the third and arguably best remake of George Cukor’s 1936 hit that endures from generation to generation. It’s the same old story: an ingénue ascends to stardom while falling in love with an artist as he tumbles from the peak of fame. But it’s a timeless tale that rewards reinvention. Cooper gives A Star is Born a country rock spin and stars as Jackson Maine, a grizzled down-and-out rocker who hits the bottle so hard he sweats gin.
Jackson meets Ally one fateful night when his thirst leads him to a drag bar – a fun nod to Lady Gaga’s hugely queer fan base. Ally wows the crowd with a show-stopping rendition of Edith Piaf’s “La vie en rose,” complete with fake eyebrows and come-hither glances. Jackson knows major talent when he sees and hears it, and Ally’s seductive performance makes the weathered country boy’s heart beat as fast as those double gins will allow him.
The first act of A Star is Born parallels the development of Ally and Jackson’s romance with the younger star’s rise. The first scenes see the pair in their element as they enjoy sparks both creative and romantic as Jackson’s hot mess inspires Ally to write a new song, while her innocence encourages Jackson to pull her up onstage during a concert. They perform Ally’s newly penned song “The Shallow” for the crowd and it becomes a viral sensation.
The song itself is an early highlight of the film as it gives Lady Gaga the defining moment in which she transforms from singer/actor to star. She owns the moment with soul and power that recall Jennifer Hudson’s magnetic performance of “And I am Telling You I’m Not Going” that won her an Oscar for her screen debut in Dreamgirls a decade ago. Lady Gaga’s magnetic relationship with the camera comes as no surprise, since she’s spent a career performing onstage and on camera, creating a pop star persona and enlivening her concerts with a larger-than-life character. As Ally struggles with fame and becomes a pop star that echoes the actress’s early career, Gaga perfectly taps into Ally’s insecurities and anxieties over maintaining her artistic integrity.
Cooper, similarly, gives the performance of his career as Jackson. The role of the washed out star, beaten by the weight of celebrity and regrets of the past, has never been played with this level of emotion. The actor’s melancholy vocals are tinged with the greatness Jackson once knew, but offstage, the character is a sweaty, staggering mess. He’s a sad cocktail of the highs and lows that corrupt great artists. These demons threaten to ruin Ally as their relationship develops, and the tumultuous arcs of their careers collide when Jackson embarrasses Ally at the Grammys in the most horrible way imaginable. Buoyed by his much older brother, played by Sam Elliot in an award-calibre supporting turn, Jackson needs Ally more than she needs him. All stars fade tragically.
A Star is Born never feels tired or reheated as Cooper and Lady Gaga mesmerize us with their outstanding vocals and natural chemistry. Cooper’s impressive directorial efforts give the film an effortless air that recalls the direction of Clint Eastwood and David O. Russell, and perhaps it’s no coincidence that his best performances are their films, as he’s in tune with their style and direction. The film brings audiences up close and personal with Ally and Jackson with each note they hit, no matter how high or how low, and every frame of A Star is Born is pure enthralling, heartfelt emotion.
A Star is Born hits theatres October 5.