There is a particular formula which takes place when a popular actor tries his or her hand at directing or when a popular singer switches gears to act. Critics either judge them harshly and are eager to tear them down, or over-praise them if they show a modicum of competence in their new roles.
The new film A Star Is Born marks the directorial debut of actor Bradley Cooper and also presents a big jump into acting for the singer Lady Gaga but unfortunately their movie falls into the over-praised category. The new version is the fourth, with the original dating back to 1937 so the story is clearly one that seems to connect with audiences enough to revisit it every few decades. Bradley Cooper, who also co-wrote the film, plays Jack, a famous singer who is miserably drinking himself to death. Once he meets Ally (Lady Gaga), a waitress and aspiring singer at a drag show he becomes smitten after seeing her sultry rendition of an Edith Piaf classic, drawn to the purity in her singing and wide-eyed aspirations. Jack has a complicated relationship with his manager and brother Bobby, played by Sam Elliott who gives a standout performance. Cooper proves himself to be a more than competent director and he does some of the best acting of his career in the process. He puts the camera right up close to himself and his fellow actors and this works well in the concert scenes, particularly the one that opens the film. The camera follows Jack as he enters an arena filled with thousands of adoring fans and shows how he can disconnect enough to perform as if he’s alone.
The movie has some fine moments throughout, particularly a sequence that features Dave Chappelle, playing one of Jack’s childhood friends, George “Noodles”. There’s a sweet scene where Jack creates a ring out of the string of a guitar to propose to Ally but it’s surprisingly upstaged by one of George’s daughters who is having a full blown conversation with herself in the background that has nothing to do with the proposal. It’s an honest moment of spontaneity that Cooper wisely leaves in the film adding nice texture.
The biggest problem with the movie which seriously holds back its potential is the casting of Lady Gaga, who is being hailed as a “revelation”. Gaga doesn’t offer up much emotion in her face and this is particularly noticeable with Cooper’s use of close-ups throughout the film. Gaga is obviously a gifted singer and in the musical scenes she lights up in a way that is unfortunately not present throughout the rest of the movie where her performance feels flat. Gaga’s performance calls to mind the film 8 Mile starring Eminem. Both movies have a star performer channeling their personal life in ways that resemble their own stories but while Eminem’s performance was hailed as being raw and powerful at the time it doesn’t hold up today. Whether this will be true for Gaga’s performance here and if the film as a whole will live up to its hype remains to be seen.