Combined Rating 3.5/5
How many times must a film be remade before the whole world knows how it ends? Apparently, that has yet to be determined. I know some folks who were not yet familiar with the tale. Those folks shall remain nameless in the interest of charity to folks raised in caves. Even still, I myself did not quite realize that A Star is Born had been unofficially slated for generational updates…offering a kind of quintessential American lesson everyone should internalize because either it’s THAT important, or Hollywood is truly out of ideas. In 2018, the fourth iteration of this bittersweet saga about the fleeting nature of fame hit the big screen, starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, of all people. And I have to say, despite the old hat, the clothes were new, and fit quite nicely.
Gaga inherited the Barbra Streisand role from the 1976 version (the poster for which, featuring assumed nudes of perm-clad Streisand and hippie-Jesus Kris Kristofferson in a staged embrace, may be one of the most disturbing images in filmdom). Having said that, few could match Streisand’s pipes, making casting tricky. Gaga, thankfully, is one of them, in her debut leading role. Cooper, also directing, assumes the burden of our declining alcoholic rock star Jackson, who, despite serious flaws, manages to fall in love and motivate himself long enough to promote Ally’s gee-wiz talents, which initially find her performing in shady drag bars for 21st century flair. He charms her in a mumbling kind of way, and rescues her from obscurity. Queue Jack’s protective manager/brother Bobby (Sam Elliot) who must set a cinematic record for F-bombs matched only by Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction. The glint in Jackson’s eye is fading fast, as he clings to sobriety amidst a bevy of life-of-a-superstar snares and awkward family drama. Even if we don’t predict his specific fate on the Thunderdome wheel, we sense this can only turn out one way for him.
What the film does well is explore the dichotomy of who we really are beneath the self-imposed mask of our public persona, and how difficult it is to manage expectations and even our true identity in the throes of disease that dampens it to fill a void. Relationships seem impossible to maintain given self-imposed pressures within a rising sea of self-doubt, especially when the public is, by nature, unforgiving and fickle. One scene symbolizes Jack’s public death in a severely cringe-inducing manner, at an award show honoring Ally’s official rise. It’s the pinnacle moment where we know they’ve traded places…but to what end? The inevitable fall of Jack is no surprise (again, to most), as we’re clued in throughout the proceedings with subtle harbingers and details that portend in retrospect. We’re left hoping that Ally (or indeed Gaga in her own storied music career) doesn’t follow the same path, but we’ve seen too many times the temptations inherent in the business. We can only console ourselves but for that brief crest of the wave and enjoy the fruits of their creative labor before it all potentially crashes down. In the end, at least, it’s the music itself, sad, poetic, and ironically introspective, that lasts.
What a lot of mixed emotions this one stirs up! I love the overall premise—it’s a Cinderella story, but with the music industry, and it most definitely is not a feel-good fairy tale. Ally (Lady Gaga) is an incredibly talented waitress by day, nightclub performer by night. Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a jaded country superstar who stops by the club where Ally is performing on his way home after a concert, just because he ran out of alcohol and needs to keep his buzz going. It’s love at first sight, more or less, mostly because her talent blows him away. From that moment on, he practically stalks her to try to use his influence as a jump-start to her career. It works, and for a brief glorious moment in time, the two of them perform together, writing songs for one another and reveling in new love. But Jackson is an addict—Ally knows this from the beginning. As her star rises, he begins to self-destruct. Let me just say this: if you’re looking for a “happily ever after,” pass this one up. It’s suuuuper depressing.
But as much as I dislike sad stories, I’m also fascinated by the psychology of fame, and this film gives an inside look of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of adulation, as well as what it’s like to lose it. Jackson is a very sympathetic character, despite all the alcohol, the drugs, and the f-bombs (which became almost comical at certain parts of the film). What I loved most about him was that he wasn’t jealous of Ally’s success: he supported her every step of the way, and was proud of her, and continued to promote her even after it was obvious that she was far more popular than he was. But he also wanted her to stay true to her talent and identity, rather than “sell out”—changing her look and her sound to suit the public tastes. Ally does sell out, though (which I thought was particularly interesting, given the parallels between her character and Lady Gaga’s actual career: both are outrageously talented and capable of doing anything, and yet both reduced themselves to braindead lyrics with a catchy beat in order to cater to the masses. I couldn’t help but wonder whether Lady Gaga herself noticed the irony.) This is the other main source of tension between Jackson and herself, and perhaps part of what drives him further into substance abuse.
Ally, too, is a sympathetic character, though. I get why she sells out, especially since she resists it at first. All decisions in life are a cost/benefit analysis, ultimately—and the question becomes, is it worth it to you to compromise your values to achieve your dream? It’s not like the compromise is hurting anybody, and you’re greatly rewarded for it, so… why not? Also, how crazy would it be to have millions of people watching and weighing in on your every experience, good and bad? What must it be like to have normal human experiences, multiplied through the scrutiny of media attention? No wonder so many can’t handle it. So as much as I don’t care for sad films in general, and I certainly will never watch this one again, knowing how it ends—it’s definitely thought-provoking. (And also, the music is fantastic!)
Meal Pairing: Since so much of the film revolves around alcohol, bar food seems appropriate: a burger, sweet potato fries, and local craft beer.