A serious Oscar contender was born on Friday as critics at the 75th Venice International Film Festival went, well, gaga over the latest version of “A Star Is Born.”
The tale as old as showbiz that has been recycled four times before about seasoned male performer with a drinking problem and a fresh female protégé oozing with talent is brought into the 21st century in the capable hands of its male lead and first-time director Bradley Cooper. Owen Gleiberman of “Variety” gave the helming newbie props: “As a filmmaker, Bradley Cooper gets right onto the high wire, staging scenes that take their time and play out with a shaggy intimacy that’s shorn of the usual “beats.” The new ‘Star Is Born’ is a total emotional knockout, but it’s also a movie that gets you to believe, at every step, in the complicated rapture of the story it’s telling.”
Stephanie Zacharak of “Time” was quite taken by Lady Gaga in her first major film role as ascending star Ally, both for her re-invention of what could have been a clichéd character as well as her own over-the-top image: “The big question that’s been hovering in the air for months is, Can Lady Gaga act? It’s a ridiculous question. Singers often make fabulous actors. They’re primed for it: All singing is acting. But what’s surprising about Gaga is how charismatic she is without her usual extreme stage makeup, outlandish wigs and inventive costumes. It’s such a pleasure to look at her face, unadorned, with that extraordinary, face-defining nose—it’s like discovering a new country. “
He might be a novice behind the camera, but Cooper – who also co-wrote the script and penned some of the songs — holds his own as an actor, too, as Jackson Cooper, a country singer on a downhill slide. According to Peter Bradshaw of “The Guardian”: “Cooper, whose screen persona can so often be bland and unchallenging, makes precisely this conservative tendency work for him in the role. He is so sad you want to hug him. Arguably, this film fudges some of Jackson’s dark side, by giving him partial deafness as well as alcoholism, but it is still a richly sympathetic spectacle.”
Most of the reviews make the point that the first half of “A Star Is Born” shines brighter than its second. Writes Jessica Kiang of The Playlist, ”It’s peculiar that the whirlwind courtship section of the film, the scenes with Ally and her doting dad (a charming turn from Andrew Dice Clay) … and the electrifying, genuinely neck-prickling live performances of this first half are so much more convincing and authentic-feeling than the downward spiral of the second part.”
But if anything is certain, says Kiang, it is that the original song at the halfway point — “Always Remember Us This Way” – will be the tune to beat at next year’s Oscar ceremony.