*THIS HAS SPOILERS, DON’T READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE*
Not many films have the power to bring viewers through a full spectrum of human emotion, but the 2018 rendition of A Star is Born does that, and much, much more. When I left the theater after seeing the film, I was walking out with 50 other puffy-faced, tear-stained fellow viewers (one lovely woman who saw me sitting in front of her actually gave me a hug in the bathroom afterward — we were all in it together).
It goes without saying that Lady Gaga is an absolute force of nature; her talent has been gracing the public for the last decade. But, A Star is Born shows her complete reincarnation from her “Rah-Rah Ah-Ah-Ah,” meat-suit clad days. She showed us that her musical talent is unparalleled, both with her voice and the fact that she wrote many of the songs she and Bradley Cooper (who was also the director and a co-writer of the film) performed.
Off the bat, Lady Gaga’s performance is stunning and effortless. In an interview with Stephen Colbert, Gaga talks about her pursuit at acting early in her career, but that she didn’t follow through with it because she wasn’t good at auditioning.
From the second the movie begins, Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), an alcoholic country star on the decline, is infatuated with Ally (Lady Gaga), a waitress who’s given the honor to publicly display her singing talents once a week at a local drag bar. Their chemistry is beautiful to watch, and it actually felt like they weren’t following a script; it is electric.
As we know, the story is nothing new; it’s actually the third remake (fourth version) of the story, where a male music star finds an undiscovered female dynamite and uses his fame to launch her career, only to later end in tragedy.
The movie moves extremely fast — within the first 15 minutes, Jackson and Ally have already met, hit it off, and she’s singing on stage with him at a concert. Also within that time frame, it becomes very clear that Jack is very much an alcoholic.
The film sheds a bright light on alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness. It’s clear that Jackson is an alcoholic from the beginning, but none of the other characters truly address it with him until later on — perhaps they believe he is too far gone, but it feels like they all know his addiction as an unspoken fact. Ally knows after the first night of going out with him, and tells her dad that Jackson “is a drunk.” But, Cooper created a character that you root for through and through. He did an absolutely incredible job portraying the disease, from beginning to unfortunate end. It was literally painful to watch him needing to be put to bed by his brother or fall off of a chair in the middle of a party.
As the film progresses, Ally does get gradually more frustrated with Jackson. She confronts him on multiple instances, and on one night, when he comes into the bathroom while she’s taking a bath in a drunken stupor and calls her “ugly,” she yells at him to get out — a low blow after she continually expressed that people have always liked how she sounded, but not how she looked (and always references her “big nose”).
Ally’s career continues to progress as Jackson’s continues to decline, eventually leading Ally to win a Grammy for Best New Artist. As Ally gives her acceptance speech, Jackson stumbles on stage, only to end up urinating in his pants next to her. Afterward, he has a brief stint in rehab, as everyone else in his life scrambles to clean up his mess. Despite his mistake, it never comes off as if he’s blatantly jealous of Ally — he continually seems like he wants her to succeed — but rather, that he’s unable to deal with the contrast of his career declining while hers is so quickly rising her to stardom.
Jackson’s suicide was devastating, even though it’s fairly predictable after Ally’s manager, Rez, confronts him and explains that Ally’s career will suffer by continuing to be married to him; and the nail is literally put in the coffin when Ally follows by telling him she’s cancelling her European tour to be with him. Rather than watch Ally’s career suffer because of his addiction and her proximity to him, he decides to take his responsibility out of the equation. It captures the struggle of addiction and mental health problems in a real, grim light; but also portrays the price that comes with fame. Ally rose to stardom, but it came at a cost — the message all versions of the movie deliver to the audience.
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After watching the 2018 version of the film, I decided to embark on watching the 1976 version — starring Barbra Streisand as Esther Hoffman Howard and Kris Kristofferson as John Norman Howard— to compare and see if the older version would leave me in the same numb, traumatized state that the new one did.
There were stark similarities, and some scenes were shot-by-shot identical. The main actresses were both powerhouses, and far outshone the talents of their male counterparts; like Lady Gaga’s, Barbra Streisand’s talents aren’t up for debate. But, Streisand’s and Krisofferson’s chemistry was basically non-existent, which changed the entire dynamic of the film. Lady Gaga’s and Bradley Cooper’s chemistry carried throughout the movie, and you could feel their love. The 1976 version paled in comparison to me.
The comparison of the two films shows the progression of the treatment of female success that’s happened over the past 40 years. In the 1976 film, Esther is treated with much more resentment by John for her success, where throughout the entire 2018 version, Jackson seems to truly want Ally to be successful in every way she can be. When he commits suicide, it truly feels like he did it to get out of her way; when John does, it feels like he did it because he couldn’t handle the success of Esther’s career, compared to the decline of his own. Jackson did not fall victim to the same career jealousy that John did.
A big difference between the films is that in the 1976 version, John cheats on Esther, and she catches them together in bed. She gets mad for a couple of minutes, but then literally kisses and makes up with John, forgiving him almost immediately. In the 2018 version, it’s unthinkable to imagine that Jackson would ever have cheated on Ally, and the only comparison is the scene when he calls her ugly; Ally forgives him later on, but her anger lasted longer than Esther’s did, for a much less despicable betrayal.
Another contrast between the two was the ending scene. In the 2018 version, after Jackson’s death, Ally performs a beautiful, emotion-filled piano ballad, “I’ll Never Love Again” (which Jackson wrote the chorus for before his death). Toward the end of the song, it cuts to Jackson singing it with Ally looking at him — it was the perfect end. The end of the 1976 version has Streisand singing as well, but at the end of the song, it turns upbeat, and doesn’t leave you in nearly the same state of awe.
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A Star is Born is truly one of the best movies I have seen in recent years. Did it leave me devastated? Yes. But, it was beautiful, and was different from anything else that I’ve seen recently. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack on repeat for the last 24 hours, and I don’t expect I’ll be stopping any time soon.