Hitting the High Notes

discussing “a star is born”

Josh Wartel: Hi, Katya, now that we’ve both seen A Star is Born (released today in theaters), should we start by talking about the two stars, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga? What sort of attachments/interest do you have in them?

Katya Stambler: I have always loved the two of them and never would have expected to see them embark on a project together. Bradley Cooper is one of Hollywood’s leading actors for a reason, and his talent absolutely speaks for itself. Lady Gaga is also a superstar…I have loved her since her debut studio album, The Fame. What’s so interesting about this film is that you see them in ways that contrast our ideas of them.  Even though Lady Gaga is singing in the film, she is acting for the first time. Bradley Cooper, as we know him, is an actor, but in this film, he takes on his first role as a director and a singer.

JW: I think that they kind of balance each other in a bit of a strange way in the film. As you point out, one is very much a singer and the other an actor. But also, Bradley Cooper seems so masculine and Lady Gaga so feminine that I almost found the opening scenes amusing…It’s quite funny to see Bradley Cooper in a drag bar!

KS: Yes, I agree that Bradley Cooper’s character is, at least at first, the archetypal masculine male. But as the movie goes on, I think that masculinity is balanced out by Gaga’s character, Ally, warmth and authenticity. You see Jackson Maine, Cooper’s character, go from a man without any ties to a man who thanks Ally for giving him a home. Lady Gaga’s Ally is feminine in some ways, but I don’t think that’s necessarily how I would describe her character. Ally seems to have some of the qualities we associate with femininity: kindness, warmth, compassion, but I wouldn’t necessarily call her feminine. What she is is a real woman with insecurities and confidence all tangled up, a true love for music and, as the film goes on, for Jackson.

JW: Their initial meeting is very cute, so much so that it has already produced a meme, when Cooper says goodbye to her in the car. But I feel the movie slows down quite a bit in the second act. Did you stay captivated by their relationship?

KS: I absolutely did. I think their relationship slows down as Cooper’s alcoholism becomes more consuming and Gaga’s fame skyrockets, but I think that only adds to the heartbreak of what is to come.

JW: I found Cooper’s portrayal of alcoholism to be quite moving…And while it is Lady Gaga’s character who is much more insecure, in a personal and financial sense, Cooper is addicted to the double bind of singing and drinking. It’s the oldest tale of the rockstar, but it hasn’t gotten worn yet.

KS: Exactly, I completely agree. I think the most heart-wrenching scene for me in the film is when Cooper breaks down in his rehab waiting room as Gaga comes to visit him. His disease and what it has done to the woman he loves absolutely destroys him. Ultimately, addiction isn’t one-sidedaddicts tend to be addicted to a variety of things because they have addictive personalities. Jackson’s love for Ally is addictive, as are his drinking and his singing.

JW: And yet, sometimes I felt the film took itself too seriously. I found the film’s refrain that songwriting is “about having something you need to say” pretty silly…It’s okay, as Lady Gaga has shown, to just have style!

KS: One of my favorite moments in the film is when Cooper takes Gaga out onto her hotel balcony in LA and tells her that she’d better be telling her truth, because otherwise, she won’t have legs out there. Of course, it’s also okay just to have style, but I think Lady Gaga also proves that you can have style and tell important stories. Her song “Til It Happens to You” is a prime example of that.

Reader’s Note: “Til It Happens to You” is a song that Gaga co-wrote for the documentary The Hunting Ground (which focuses on rape on college campuses), and it is about the experience of sexual assault. Gaga has been open about being raped at the age of 19 and how deeply that has affected her.

JW: And how did you like the music? I know that “Shallows” is considered the front runner for Best Original Song at the Oscars, but I preferred the huskier “Maybe It’s Time,” which Cooper sings at the bar.

KS: I think both songs are interesting in their own ways. I was mostly surprised at how great Bradley Cooper’s voice is! “Shallows” is great; it’s on Spotify now, so I’ve been playing it on repeat since seeing the film on Monday…I’m actually listening to it right now.

JW: Are there any other thoughts you have about the film? Reservations or underrated parts? I thought Sam Elliot, who plays Bradley Cooper’s older brother, was interesting enough that he could have had his own movie.

KS: I thought Sam Elliot was fabulous. The look he gives when he reverses the truck after dropping Bradley Cooper off after getting out of rehab is heartbreaking and so powerful…I honestly didn’t have any reservations. I really enjoyed the film and was actually so moved by it that I’ve thought about it on and off fairly often over the past few days
JW: Ahh, that is nice to hear. I hope our readers enjoy the movie and aren’t too shaken by the third-act surprise! I am sure, come Oscar season, we will be talking again about A Star Is Born.