Who is the real Lady Gaga? In little under a decade she’s gone through so many eras and iterations that even I, an ardent, loyal fan, have sometimes lost sight of her identity.
There was the disco stick-wielding upstart and the horn-faced nonconformist; the ballgown-wearing covers goddess and the pared-down dive bar performer. I’ve followed each chapter of her career – each triumph, misfire and curveball – with equal parts fascination and exasperation.
Sometimes, I wonder how each frenetic chapter fits together.
A Star Is Born, the Bradley Cooper-costarring and directed musical romance, is her reset button.
This movie contextualises who she is (I’ve been listening to her for years and had no idea she could sing like this) and where she’s going. Namely, anywhere she wants. Across 135 sweeping minutes, she hops between genres and songs, half of which she cowrote, as at home on the twangy country numbers as the show-stopping ballads. She’s a musical tour de force.
Furthermore, the film casts new light on her career to date, insomuch as this timeworn story of a struggling singer-songwriter’s road to fame and fortune often echoes her own.
‘Ally is a pool of raw, rocky, unrefined talent’
For example, it’s clear how the gritty authenticity of Joanne-era Gaga was a stepping stone to this role. The record surely caught Bradley’s ear, and in part inspired Ally, the plucky waitress we meet at the start of the film. She’s a pool of raw, rocky, unrefined talent whose chance meeting with Cooper’s troubled rock star Jackson sparks an artistic rebirth and life-defining love affair.
The epic plot twists and turns. Ally later adopts a poppier, sexier persona, much to Jackson’s horror. (And, conversely, the glee of her slimy, parasitic manager Rez, fantastically portrayed by British actor Rafi Gavron.)
Her star rapidly rising, Ally’s invited on a late night talk show where she performs her hit ‘Why Did You Do That?’ – a catchy dance number with a criminally repetitive chorus about a guy with a nice ass that would’ve fitted perfectly on The Fame.
I can’t wait to hear the song again. Whether it’s a Poker Face or Boys Boys Boys/Eh Eh (Nothing More I Can Say), I’ll leave for you to decide. But there’s no ambivalence regards recovering addict Jackson’s feelings towards the track.
Such is his searing judgement, he’s compelled to hit the bottle and later launches a misogynistic verbal attack on Ally while she’s in the bath. The look on Gaga’s face is defiant, heartbreaking and utterly real. You get the impression she knows exactly how Ally feels. It’s an almost unbearably emotive moment.
Gaga may well obscure all around her, but this movie is definitely a two-hander. At its heart, it’s an inspiring love story that draws on the fizzing chemistry of its two leads: complicated people from wildly different places whose love of music unites, simplifies and democratizes them.
‘Bradley brings a burly intensity to Jackson’
Bradley’s performance mustn’t be understated. He brings a burly intensity to Jackson, a dark but tender-hearted soul. His gruff, powerful singing voice is a revelation, but at times I struggled to understand his speaking voice, which damaged my understanding of the story. Nevertheless, he succeeds as an actor and a first-time director.
Sam Elliot [above], still beautifully handsome at 74, plays Jackson’s older brother and manager, channeling identical diction and tortured, toxic masculinity.
Elsewhere, LGBTIs are well-represented: bisexual star Halsey has a true-to-life cameo, while RuPaul’s Drag Race veteran Shangela is effortlessly charming as Ally’s drag mother, and the proprietor of the bar in which she first meets Jackson.
But the film is Gaga’s.
I would call it ironic that it’s taken her playing someone else entirely for me to truly understand her intentions. (And a role already portrayed by the likes of Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, no less). But actually, as a respectful payer of homage, a shape-shifting, endlessly surprising performer and entertainer, it makes perfect sense.
You could argue say Gaga gets an easy ride here, because she is Ally. There are definitely overlaps. But as we’ve already established, Gaga is so much more than just one thing; she’s multifaceted, and has had to massively rein that in to make this performance work.
At times, her many dimensions have confused me, and many of us I think. Now, I see this skill as the hallmark of a true performer… not to mention one hell of an actress.
A Star Is Born is out in UK cinemas in 3 October and US cinemas on 5 October