Choosing to take a fourth run at an iconic Hollywood film takes moxie on the part of the director and male lead, Bradley Cooper, and confidence on the part of the female lead, Lady Gaga, that she can hold her own by comparison with her legendary predecessors: Janet Gaynor, Julie Garland, Barbra Streisand.
I’ve not followed the career of Lady Gaga, although I know in passing that her name is Stefani Germanotta and that she grew up on the upper west side of Manhattan and that she gives dynamite live shows. I’ve never seen her perform live, and I don’t know her music. This is apparently her breakout role segueing from live performance to film. Not every star of live stage can or wants to do that. Cher did — think of her roles in Silkwood, Mask, Moonstruck, and most recently, a fun part in Mama Mia II. Joan Baez never did, I think never even tried. She is a performer/activist, not a performer and actress.
And who knew Bradley Cooper could sing?
The story of A Star is Born is well known. Cooper plays a hard drinking musician on his way down, who discovers and falls in love with a waitress by day singing by night in a drag bar. Her career, launched with an onstage duet performance at his invitation, skyrockets. Tragedy follows.
Gaga is really good. For the first 2/3 of the film, we see Stefani Germanotta. For the last third, she morphs before our eyes into Gaga. Her singing is fabulous. So is Bradley Cooper’s, for that matter.
The film is a little long, a bit over 2 hours, and some of the critical reviews ding the script writing in the second half. But I found the film engrossing and emotionally wrenching, and I think you might too whether or not you have ever heard the name Lady Gaga.
The opening scene in the drag bar is really funny, and reminds me of the time in New York that I slipped into a bar at an odd afternoon hour to get a sandwich and a glass of wine, and after ordering looked around to see that I was in the midst of all women, mostly coupled. I did get an overture or two, which I politely declined — apparently signaling to one and all that my presence at a lesbian bar was an accident, not intentional. They left me alone to enjoy my lunch, and the experience was fine. Cooper gets way more involved, finally agreeing to autograph a set of rubbery fake boobs set securely in place on the chest of their owner.
The film left me wanting to go back and find the Streisand/Kristofferson version, which I’m sure I saw but barely remember. Gaga and Cooper do the iconic film proud, easily holding their own and perhaps even exceeding the performances of some of their predecessors. I enjoyed the film very much, and think that you will too.