VENICE, Italy (Reuters) - 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."
"A Star Is Born" screened in a non-competition slot at the Venice festival which runs to Sept 8.
Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Peter Graff