The first film as director (and co-star, co-producer and co-writer) from Bradley Cooper is an overlong, weirdly old-fashioned and somewhat toothless epic saved from silliness by, of course, Lady Gaga, who belts out songs co-written and usually co-performed by Cooper with all the drama and fire that the surrounding story rather lacks.
A remake of the 1976 ASIB (not the Hollywood-focussed 1954 and 1937 versions or the Bollywood rip-offs), this has some deft handling by Cooper, and his characterisation is alternately charming and repellent, and yet it’s all about her, something he must have realised it would be when she was cast. Surely? Come on, didn’t he realise?
Jackson Maine (BC) is a country/rocky singer introduced performing a tune called Black Eyes at a Californian concert while pretty much blitzed on booze and pills. His chauffeur takes him out to get more wasted at some bar and he winds up, by chance, at a ‘drag night’ where he, by chance, catches Ally (Gaga) knocking off La Vie En Rose with all the passion and oomph of, well, Lady Gaga.
Instantly smitten, he takes her out for more drinks and some goofy intimacy (cue lots of big close-ups), and there are a few funny moments when she returns home to her nosy Dad Lorenzo, who’s nicely played by a rehabilitated Andrew Dice Clay. An improbable series of circumstances then has her quit her restaurant job, enjoy a private flight to one of Jackson’s gigs and get dragged on stage to perform one of her own songs that he heard a mere snippet of the night before (and embarrassingly it’s called Shallow, and begins like Vance Joy’s We’re Going Home and turns into Gaga’s own The Edge Of Glory).
As Jackson and Ally fall for each other, LG’s actual acting improves while Bradley’s gets meaner and far less cute, and as she becomes more and more famous he, in turn, starts to fall into drunken despair and humiliation. There’s an over-directed scene at the Grammys essentially straight out of the other versions (the two older ones take place at the Oscars) and much more singing, seemingly all of it performed live and with Cooper and Gaga knocking off numbers in front of real crowds. And the music itself? Imagine a strange synthesis of the Yardbirds, Johnny Cash, Paul Simon and Jack Black and his Tenacious D.
Lady Gaga has acted before (her role in TV’s American Horror Story was, shall we say, memorable), but the punters won’t be lining up to see her thespian skills, and it’s interesting that the script makes a lot out of her gay friends (so we’re reminded of Gaga’s own championing of LGBTQ causes) and distinctive facial features. When Jackson gets loaded and calls her “f***ing ugly”, it seriously stings.
And what about Bradley Cooper? Remember him? Much as Jackson is eclipsed by Ally, he’s very much overshadowed by the Lady here, just as we all expected and he must have too. He has every reason to be irked about being forced to play second-fiddle (guitar?) in his first feature film in the top job – but, well, what did he expect? He was never, ever going to be the actual star.