VENICE, ITALY — Most of the critics avoided the obvious headline to describe Lady Gaga’s performance in A Star Is Born, but they seemed to agree that the singer showed what it takes to lead a major movie.
For audiences familiar with the pop diva known for high-concept outfits and extraordinary hair and make-up, Gaga is barely recognizable as Ally the girl-next-door who has given up on a music career until she is discovered by grizzled rock star Jackson, played by first-time director Bradley Cooper.
“Given the extravagance of the pop star’s usual costumes, it’s almost like you’re seeing her for the first time,” wrote IndieWire’s Michael Nordine.
“She instantly makes you believe in her Ally as a no-name talent despite already being one of the most successful singers on the planet. Unassuming but obviously special.”
Reverting to form, Lady Gaga donned an off-the-shoulder dress made of long pink feathers as she accompanied Cooper in his tuxedo to the world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on Friday.
“Gaga completely sheds her pop persona and exhibits a scrubbed-clean, relaxed appeal and a deft balance of toughness and vulnerability,” The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney wrote, in his review, adding that Cooper has “real warmth and a sexy spark in his onscreen chemistry with Gaga that makes their characters’ instant connection believable.”
From noodling on a piano at home, to huge concert scenes filmed for real at Coachella and Glastonbury festivals that Rooney found “electrifying,” the songs were recorded live, putting Gaga’s best-known talent in the spotlight.
Gaga is the third diva to tackle the story and couldn’t possibly have more fabulous shoes to fill: Judy Garland made the original musical version in 1954. The 1976 remake starred none other than Barbra Streisand.
But critics said Gaga soared to the occasion. In his five-star review in The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw called her performance “sensationally good.” The movie was “hokum,” but “outrageously watchable and colossally enjoyable.”
Gaga’s “ability to be part ordinary person, part extraterrestrial celebrity empress functions at the highest level at all times.”
Critics were also impressed by Cooper’s debut as director.
“To say that he does a good job would be to understate his accomplishment,” wrote Owen Gleiberman in Variety. “As a filmmaker, Bradley Cooper gets right onto the high wire, staging scenes that take their time and play out with a shaggy intimacy.
“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.”
Lady Gaga spoke of her painful road to fame after she shone in her big Hollywood movie debut
“Many times at the beginning of my career I was not the most beautiful woman in the room — but I wrote my own songs,” she told reporters.
The story of an “ugly” girl who thinks her nose is too big and hides behind layers of outrageous makeup had obvious autobiographical echoes for US star.
Lady Gaga said she dug deep into her own experiences for the role.
When she was trying to make it “they often wanted me to give my songs to other singers but I held onto my music with my cold dead fingers, ‘You are not going to take my songs from me’,” she said
“They made suggestions about how I should look,” said the superstar, who thanked a journalist for comparing her nose to that of another great diva, the soprano Maria Callas.
Lady Gaga she said had to be “very strong to negotiate” the music industry’s attempts to remake her.
“I would always take a left turn. I never wanted to be sexy or to be viewed like other women. I wanted to be my own artist and my own woman,” she added.
Gaga, 32, whose real name is Stefani Germanotta, plays an Italian-American waitress and singer who meets a country music star on the slide in a drag club where she is performing Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose”.
Sparks fly and soon this odd couple are making romantic and musical fireworks.
Gaga said her biggest fear was “being completely vulnerable and bare” on screen.
The first thing Cooper did at the screen test was wipe the makeup from her face, “and I was only wearing a little bit”, she said.
“I always love to transform myself and shape shift, it is part of my art and my music. But he wanted to see me with nothing… and he brought out this vulnerability in me, in someone who doesn’t necessarily feel safe to be vulnerable… he made me feel so free,” she added.
Cooper, 43, said their shared Italian-American roots helped weld the “amazing connection” between them.
“I got to live my dream, I always wanted to be an actor,” said Lady Gaga.
A Star Is Born screened in a non-competition slot at the Venice festival which runs to Sept. 8. — Reuters/AFP