Lady Gaga takes on a role previously played by Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand as Ally, a young woman with an incredible voice, who is discovered by Jackson (Bradley Cooper) a beautiful, dirty, rich rocker who sets out to make her a star. But how will the heavy metal lover handle the fame and paparazzi? And will she become a monster?
At the core of the film is a good romance, with a remarkable level of chemistry between Cooper and Gaga. The film feels incredibly personal with Cooper also taking the helm in his impressive directorial debut, while also delivering a superb performance. It’s impeccably well-made, with smoothly staged, natural-feeling songs, even if it’s not the kind of musical you can just dance to.
It’s full of raw drama, with two characters who play off each other well and feel believable. And yet the story is not one that’s particularly interesting, with familiar-sounding dramatic notes. The relationship is exceptionally well-handled, but for some of us watching love games is just not interesting enough to sustain a two hour movie.
Yet Gaga is clearly the star, and further demonstrates her apparently limitless creative ability. I’ve not seen any of the story’s prior incarnations, but there are some touches here which are clearly from her own life, as Ally starts out as a singer in gay bars much as Gaga did – which I assume wasn’t in the 1937 original. This also means we get to see Shangela and Willam from Hurricane Bianca, which is always a treat.
Gaga brings her natural aura to the lead role, with a level of acting talent you’d expect from all those years practicing her poker face. Given her famous wardrobe you might expect a hammy performance, but the lady is not for gurning, delivering a remarkable level of subtlety in a hair-raising performance which is sure to propel her to the edge of Oscars glory, and shows that as an actor she really has teeth.
One of the secrets to Gaga’s success as a performer is the fact she’s a blank canvas. In her music career this has allowed her to adopt a wide range of personas through her elaborate costumes and stage shows. As an actor, it means that without all the wigs, makeup and decaying animal dresses that identify her, she’s able to create a perfect illusion so you forget who you’re watching to an extent never achieved by Cher or Madonna. For the most part she looks plain and ordinary, if also often sexy, and this is what makes her so believable. By the end fans will be shouting “again, again” and may even be so happy they could die. Hold for applause.