Lady Gaga and Natalie Portman Deliver Dueling Visions of Pop Stardom — TIFF Critic’s Notebook

IndieWire | 9/7/2018 | Staff
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Fame is a tricky subject for established actors, especially ones with such recognizable faces that they can never fully immerse themselves in a role. In “A Star is Born,” director-star Bradley Cooper’s grimy and soulful installment in a decades-spanning tradition of tackling the rags-to-riches saga, Lady Gaga embraces the opportunity to endow a familiar showbiz drama with renewed intimacy. The established performer becomes a veiled weapon for her fragile character — a rising phenom named Ally — whose uncertainty about her talent is upended by our knowledge that she has it in spades; it doesn’t take much needling from Cooper’s renowned hard-drinking rocker Jackson Maine to drag it out of her.

“A Star is Born” may be a timeless formula, but the subject has particular resonance when our crazed media circus exploits creativity at any opportunity, only to spit it out the moment the juices run dry. And so, that remake has landed on the fall film festival circuit with an evil twin: “Vox Lux,” writer-director Brady Corbet’s fascinating, bleak enigma about the self-destructive path of a pop star who epitomizes the shifting temperaments of a country at odds with itself.

Coarse - Moody - Singer - Celeste - Natalie

As the coarse, moody singer Celeste, Natalie Portman deliver a stormy interpretation of an icon saddled with a culture that projects its sentiments onto her. Beginning with a traumatic high-school shooting and culminating in a performance that feels like a very different sensory assault, “Vox Lux” is a jarring deconstruction of the industry that “A Star is Born” explores in more familiar terms.

Both movies deliver on vastly different ambitions. As a director, Cooper borrows more heavily from the John Cassavetes playbook than the story’s precedents, with a naturalistic drama that sticks close to its tearjerker potential without overplaying its sentimental hand. Of course, he’s mining a lot of obvious territory here,...
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