Empire (UK) - - CONTENTS - terri White

Have we gone Gaga for Bradley Cooper’s di­rec­to­rial de­but? You’ll never be able to tell from our p-p-poker face.

DI­REC­TOR Bradley Cooper

CAST Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam El­liott, Dave Chap­pelle, An­drew Dice Clay, An­thony Ramos, Rafi Gavron

PLOT Jack­son Maine (Cooper), is a bloated, spi­ralling coun­try star who meets and falls in love with wait­ress/wannabe singer Ally (Gaga). As the two fall in love, her star — with his help — is on the as­cen­dant while his qui­etly sinks. Can their love save him? Or will he, and they, fall un­der the weight of his emo­tional pain and ad­dic­tion? DE­VEL­OP­MENT HELL IS lit­tered with vic­tims and, for a time, it looked as though A Star Is Born may join the pile of bro­ken bod­ies, with sev­eral huge-name directors, ac­tors and singers linked with the project over the last decade.

This isn’t, wasn’t, a film to take on lightly. Pre­sent­ing, as it does, a very par­tic­u­lar weight, from its very par­tic­u­lar his­tory, to who­ever did man­age to haul it, still breath­ing, over the fin­ish line. This is the fourth A Star Is Born to make it into the world and it’s Ge­orge Cukor’s 1954 ver­sion star­ring Judy Gar­land that packed the great­est emo­tional punch. And it’s this one that 2018’s A Star Is Born shares most DNA with; the ver­sion brought to life by the per­haps-not-im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous pair­ing of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.

When we, and she, meet coun­try star Jack­son Maine (Bradley Cooper) — still packing out sta­di­ums but, cer­tainly, you feel, no longer at his best — he’s swollen, pale, doughy, his eyes swim­ming, the wa­tery give­away of a barely func­tion­ing al­co­holic. In many fun­da­men­tal re­spects, Cooper’s un­recog­nis­able as the ac­tor we know. And never more so than when he first speaks: his voice a cou­ple of oc­taves lower than his nat­u­ral speak­ing voice.

He’s im­me­di­ately cap­ti­vated by Lady Gaga’s Ally (as are we), when she ap­pears in a drag bar per­form­ing ‘La Vie En Rose’ with painted black hair and stuck-on su­per-arched eye­brows. So far, so Gaga. And herein lies the cen­tral ques­tion: can she, in her first fea­ture, pull off the char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion of a nor­mal, in­se­cure girl who, while deep-down sure of her tal­ent, plays the com­ments of in­dus­try men — “You sound great but you don’t look so great” — on a loop in her head. Can she even re­mem­ber that girl?

The an­swer is yes. She puts in a per­for­mance that is both com­pelling and well-crafted and ac­tu­ally, you pre­sume, pulls on her own rise. She brings a star­tling nat­u­ral­ism and light­ness of touch that is com­pletely at odds with her pub­lic per­sona; an

ex­quis­ite mix­ture of dis­be­lief, cyn­i­cism, hope and ten­der vul­ner­a­bil­ity. Be­neath the bravado and bol­shi­ness lies the welts from pre­vi­ous re­jec­tions and dis­ap­point­ments; she tends to them at times and prods them at oth­ers, as her world changes be­yond all recog­ni­tion.

But there are, un­doubt­edly, mo­ments when the­atri­cal­ity takes over — when she’s so com­fort­able in front of a big crowd that Ally is snuffed out and Lady Gaga sits straight-backed in her place. The spell is bro­ken, mo­men­tar­ily.

Be­yond this, the live scenes are elec­tric — they are some of the most be­liev­able, au­then­tic, dy­namic live per­for­mance scenes in cin­ema. A re­mark­able feat of both per­for­mance and film­mak­ing. While Gaga and par­tic­u­larly Cooper do much of the heavy-lift­ing, credit must be given to the edit­ing job done by Jay Cas­sidy (Sil­ver Liv­ings Play­book, Amer­i­can Hus­tle).

Though the ‘star’ of the ti­tle is un­doubt­edly Gaga, the star of the film is un­doubt­edly Bradley Cooper. He’s as­ton­ish­ing as a man crip­pled by life-long emo­tional trauma — the death of his mother, ad­dic­tion of his fa­ther and the de­bil­i­tat­ing tin­ni­tus and hear­ing con­di­tion he’s had since birth. The clear and present pain sit­ting just be­hind his eyes, tucked in the base of his neck as it bows to put on his cow­boy hat.

Ally is ill-equipped to deal with his drink­ing and the pain it masks (“You think he drinks a bit much?” says his brother Bobby, a phe­nom­e­nal Sam El­liott, as he puts an un­con­scious Jack­son to bed. “Sweetie, you have no idea”). But what’s clear is that Ally rep­re­sents the most hope he’s had for years. And the real tragedy lies be­tween the birth of that hope and its slow death as Jack­son’s ca­reer takes him back down the throat of a bot­tle and Ally’s puts her on bill­boards astride LA.

Ton­ally, there are rel­a­tively mi­nor stut­ters and bumps. Ally’s man­ager Rez (Gavron) is un­com­fort­ably close to be­ing a pan­tomime vil­lain (with cut-to-fit Bri­tish ac­cent): mould­ing her into an artist that sees her shelve her in­tegrity for hits and whis­per­ing darkly in Jack­son’s ear. An SNL per­for­mance and Gram­mys scene are glar­ingly bright in­tru­sions of mod­ern re­al­ity into a film that de­cid­edly, if not retro in feel, ben­e­fits from an ever­green vis­ual palette. But mi­nor they are.

A Star Is Born may be a re­make, may even have had a tricky birth, but Cooper and Lady Gaga make the ma­te­rial feel fresh, ur­gent and full of soul. A film both for the ages and for 2018. And when the fi­nal emo­tional punch is thrown, you’ll be left reel­ing at the orig­i­nal­ity and heart on dis­play.

verdict A re­mark­ably as­sured di­rec­to­rial de­but from bradley cooper who turns in a ca­reer-defin­ing per­for­mance op­po­site a promis­ing Lady Gaga. A re­make that cap­tures the tone and spirit of prior films, A Star is Born still blazes its own heart­felt, au­then­tic path.

The sweet sound of love: Jack­son Maine (Bradley Cooper) ser­e­nades Ally (Lady Gaga).

Clock­wise from top: Star struck: Ally hits the big time; Ten­sions rise be­tween Jack­son and his brother and man­ager Bobby (Sam El­liott); Jack­son and Ally make beau­ti­ful (but pained) mu­sic to­gether.

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