A Compendium of Actors: Lady Gaga the actress?

Graphic art for "A Compendium of Actors" column is pictured. Graphic courtesy Aliza Kibel

A Compendium of Actors: Lady Gaga the actress?

The path from pop star to actor is a well-drawn line — it’s been done before, and it will surely be done again. Look to American icon Cher who, after quite a bit of doubting and mockery, moved from campy songstress to Oscar-winning actress. Following this lead is Lady Gaga, international superstar. So is Lady Gaga ‘good’ at acting? The question may be more difficult than it appears. 

For her first starring role, Gaga stayed true to what she knew, playing a rising pop star in the modern remake “A Star Is Born” (2018). Gaga plays Ally, a struggling singer who falls in love with superstar Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) and ultimately gains popularity in the process. Gaga’s performance is intentionally quaint and down-to-earth, peeling back the makeup and costuming famous with the Lady Gaga image. In this way, “A Star Is Born” was a success in solidifying Gaga as a multihyphenate of real acting talent. Whether Gaga was ultimately really good in the film, however, is a more elusive question. It was surely a flashy performance, with raging highs and lows distorting the audience. The musical numbers also added to this appeal, something clearly in Gaga’s wheelhouse. Ultimately, her performance did lack any sense of emotional nuance. The character was deeply one-note, with the majority of the broader emotional resonance being brought to the film by Cooper’s character (which, to be fair, is the meatier role). Still, “A Star Is Born” was much more of a success for Gaga’s image than it was a strong performance piece. 

Sticking with the theme of big-budget Oscar bait movies, Gaga reenters the scene with her new hit, “House of Gucci” (2021). The meandering 2 ½ hour crime drama follows Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) and his battles with the Gucci family politics. Also key to the story is Patrizia Reggiani, Maurizio’s social-climbing wife who pushes him to rejoin the Gucci brand and is ultimately implicated in his murder. Reggiani is, as you might have guessed, played by Gaga herself. The film is a mixed bag, filled with differing levels of commitment and starkly contrasting attempts at Italian accents. Within the film, Gaga is coincidentally a high point. She holds the movie together and provides the majority of the intrigue. In the final chunk of the film, when the focus shifts almost singularly to Driver’s character, the loss is felt. Still, to call Gaga’s performance ‘good acting’ may be a misstep — rather, she may just provide the greatest spectacle. Gaga provides the campiest, most dramatic performance in the film, and thus the others feel insufficient. Gaga nails what we already know she does so well: creating a showstopper.

Ultimately, Lady Gaga may not be the prestigious actress that she so clearly wants to be. Still, there is one thing that Lady Gaga the actress surely is, and that is fun. When Gaga hams it up and takes on roles with dramatic gasp-inducing hilarity, she does best. So maybe Gaga isn’t a good actress, but she sure is a good performer. 


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