Film

A STAR IS BORN (15)

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - Mar­cus Berk­mann

When you re­make a much-loved film, you have one sub­stan­tial struc­tural prob­lem: the au­di­ence knows ex­actly what’s go­ing to hap­pen. When you re­make A Star Is Born, which it­self was a re­make of a re­make, your au­di­ence is so far ahead of you that it’s al­most be­hind you.

As Lady Gaga leaves her lousy res­tau­rant job at the be­gin­ning of the film and walks up a ramp, singing to her­self, we know, even if she doesn’t, that she will soon meet an age­ing and al­co­holic rock su­per­star, that they will fall in love, that her ex­tra­or­di­nary tal­ent will be­come clear to all, that she will rise and rise, that he will fall and fall, that she will su­per­sede him and that their love can­not and will not last.

Her des­ti­na­tion is clear. But what’s the jour­ney like? Hap­pily, this 11th or maybe 12th ver­sion of A Star Is Born is hugely en­joy­able, although I was struck while watch­ing it that, if it were any­thing even slightly less than that, it would be a dis­as­trous and cat­a­strophic fail­ure. Bradley Cooper, who plays the age­ing, al­co­holic rock su­per­star, also di­rects for the first time, so con­fi­dently and with such skill that it looks as though he’s been do­ing it for years.

But it’s Lady Gaga who is the rev­e­la­tion. She is not (I’m as­sum­ing) a trained ac­tress and, to some ex­tent, she is play­ing her­self – although many of the great screen stars of ev­ery age have done that and no one has com­plained. But she car­ries the film’s emo­tional heft like an old pro.

Last time around, in 1976, Bar­bra Streisand played the in­génue and Kris Kristof­fer­son the old geezer. (In fact, he was only six years older than her.) Bar­bra was too know­ing and Kris was un­der­pow­ered. Who else could have played these roles since? Imag­ine Madonna in a 1988 ver­sion, with her weedy lit­tle voice and ut­ter in­abil­ity to act, and wake up scream­ing.

The real sur­prise, to me at least, is what an as­tound­ing singer Lady Gaga turns out to be. I clearly haven’t been pay­ing at­ten­tion, for she has se­ri­ous pipes. The en­tire film rests on a par­tic­u­lar scene, when he is per­form­ing at some out­door sta­dium gig and he starts singing a song she has writ­ten, and he in­vites her on­stage, and she re­fuses, and she can’t do it, and then sud­denly she de­cides she has to, and she strides out on stage, grabs the mi­cro­phone and lets rip. If that scene doesn’t work, the film fails. It re­ally works.

If I have a com­plaint, it’s that this scene ap­pears about a third of the way through the film, and there are hours of story to be got through be­fore you can fi­nally go to the loo. An el­derly cou­ple two rows in front of me were lit­er­ally vi­brat­ing with pain by the film’s end.

Also, for a hope­less al­co­holic, Cooper is re­mark­ably gym-toned, and has ex­cep­tion­ally good teeth. More­over, the mu­sic Lady Gaga plays when she be­comes a star seems facile in the ex­treme, although I sup­pose it does re­sem­ble the ter­ri­ble mu­sic she per­pe­trates in real life.

But, over­all, this is a fine, in­tel­li­gent and emo­tion­ally be­liev­able film, with some good se­condary per­for­mances from Sam El­liott as his older, more la­conic brother, and young Rafi Gavron as her nasty man­ager. The fi­nal scene, a new song writ­ten by Cooper’s char­ac­ter and sung by Gaga’s, is won­der­ful and, like all the mu­sic in the film, recorded live.

I left with a smile on my face and a manly tear in my eye, break­ing into a small sprint for the gents.

The Lady is a champ: Gaga su­per­sedes Bradley Cooper in A Star Is Born

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