Probably Venice’s biggest star attraction was the premiere of A Star Is Born, directed by and starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.
At first glance it looks more like a remake of the 1976 film with Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Streisand, although the credits reveal it was based on Moss Hart’s script for the 1954 George Cukor musical version with Judy Garland and James Mason as well as William Wellman’s Oscar-winning screenplay for the 1937 Janet Gaynor original.
Cooper, directing and singing for the first time, plays Jackson Maine, a huge country rock star and a spiralling alcoholic who visits a drag bar one night and immediately falls for Ally’s barnstorming performance of La Vie En Rose.
First thing’s first – Brad sings and plays great; Gaga acts more than impressively and sings like the star she undoubtedly is. She doesn’t have Streisand’s purity of tone but she does have her nose (the film and the characters make repeated reference to her nose) and she also has Judy’s big eyes and vulnerability.
Yet she makes the part of Ally entirely her own in a film that’s about finding your voice – Gaga can do many styles of vocal – and your look and holding on to your talent. While the perils of the modern music biz assail her and her star rises, Cooper’s Jackson (‘Jack’) battles with his own demons of drink and drugs (this modern day version can show substance abuse where previous ones couldn’t – is that progress?) as well as his own ‘authenticity’ in a sub-plot involving his manager brother, played by Sam Elliott.
It’s a film about image and honesty and about love, something that isn’t soft as an easy chair at all but as hard to maintain and achieve as fame and artistry.
I think the film is going to be pretty huge. It might not say much new about fame, celebrity, youtube, going viral, streaming and all that but that’s because, refreshingly, it’s more about being live and in the moment.
Gaga doesn’t have Babs’ deflecting, deflating humour but she can certainly rock an outfit and team it with huge soul and giant performances. And, this being more of a cool, rock concert movie than an old-fashioned musical or quaintly hairy 70s folly, the test should be if there are any hits in it – and I’d say that Always Remember Us This Way, Never Love Again and The Shallow (co-written with Mark Ronson) will all power this one to glory.
Gaga will be singing at the Oscars for sure, but that may well not be the only category she features in, and Cooper will probably be just as garlanded. Stars born, indeed.