A Star Is Born is the latest in a long line of movies starring pop stars. In this case, the pop star in question is Lady Gaga, who can now add stellar acting to her impressive list of career achievements. She plays opposite Bradley Cooper, who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay. He’s an alt-country singer struggling with alcoholism; she’s a talented singer on the rise.
I was vaguely aware of Lady Gaga during her early career in the late 2000s, but it was in 2012 that I developed a fondness for her song “Alejandro” in somewhat unusual circumstances. I was living in Pisac, Peru for three months with my family, and for a good chunk of that time a circus was set up just across from our hostel. Every morning we were woken by the sound of lions roaring, then every evening the circus would open with the same few pop songs played at full blast, one of which was “Alejandro.” (I know lions in circuses are most definitely not cool, but being woken by lions roaring is kinda cool.) I can’t say I’m a huge fan of all Lady Gaga’s music, but I’m full of admiration for her as a performer, fashion icon, and social activist.
Based on what I’ve read and heard about it, A Star Is Born sounds like a movie I’ll like a lot. There have been many other movies starring musicians that I’ve enjoyed; here’s a brief selection:
- David Bowie in Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983) – Whereas most compilations of movies starring musicians would pick Labyrinth (1986) for Bowie’s entry, I’m going with this lesser known war drama from three years earlier. It’s a fascinating film about British prisoners-of-war in a Japanese camp during the Second World War and features an extraordinary acting performance by Bowie.
- Prince in Purple Rain (1984) – Flawed but entertaining movie featuring Prince hamming it up magnificently and one of the best soundtracks of all time.
- Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) – Before Lady Gaga there was Madonna and here she stars alongside Rosanna Arquette in a screwball comedy that is a lot of fun to watch. One of Madonna’s better movies.
- Tom Waits in Rumble Fish (1983) – Despite a critical panning at its time of release, I love Francis Ford Coppola’s “art film for teenagers” based on S.E. Hinton’s young adult novel. Waits has a memorable cameo running a diner, pontificating on the nature of time. If you want to see Waits in a starring role, check out Jim Jarmusch’s Down By Law (1986).
- Aretha Franklin in The Blues Brothers (1980) – There’s a whole host of great musicians in this classic musical comedy, including Ray Charles, James Brown, Cab Calloway, Steve Cropper, and Matt “Guitar” Murphy, but this entry is in honour of Aretha Franklin, who steals the movie in a fabulous scene where she performs “Think” in a diner (YouTube it here).
- Björk in Dancer In The Dark (2000) – I love Bjork’s music, but I appreciate that it is not for everyone. So too, the movies of Danish auteur Lars von Trier, and this movie, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, is definitely in the love-it or hate-it category. But there can be little argument that Björk gives an incredible performance.
- Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová in Once (2007) – This is probably the most conventional movie in this list and is simply a joy to watch. The musicians in this case aren’t quite as well-known as the others in my list, but I’m including it just because the movie is so good.
Iain Pardoe is an online university instructor who enjoys the movies of Hayao Miyazaki even more than the kids and loves rewatching favourites from his youth with his family when he’s not playing soccer or skiing.