In the wake of the horrible news cycle and Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation on Saturday, the evening seemed like the perfect time to go see A Star Is Born in search of even a glimmer of light. This might sound a bit ironic given the film’s rather dark tone, which knocks the wind out of you even more so than the three previous versions of the movie. Still, the power and beauty contained in Lady Gaga’s performance as Ally (which many have deemed Oscar-worthy) made my night, if not my entire week.
At its heart, A Star Is Born is a classic story of boy meets girl. In this case, the boy is Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), an older musician in denial of his worsening tinnitus, struggling to keep his head above water as he imbibes alcohol and chokes down pills to get through gigs he once would’ve considered far beneath him.
The girl is Ally (Lady Gaga), a younger woman who has essentially given up on pursuing a career in the music industry after being told time and time again that she has everything but the looks to succeed. From their first dalliance in his hotel room when Jackson’s older brother warns her of his demons, it’s plain to see that their story cannot end well.
It is remarkable that A Star Is Born is Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, especially considering he was also starring in the film.
His talent behind the camera is evident throughout the film; he captures the energy of the film’s live performances so effortlessly that you feel like you’re standing in person watching from stage right. Cooper also carries forward some of the trippy aspects of the Barbra Streisand version, with neon red lighting serving as a reoccurring motif: at their first meeting at the gay bar where Ally performs, then in the first love scene, and later in their shared home.
In combination with the performances from the film’s stars, these aspects of the film certainly serve as a promising indication of Cooper’s potential should he choose to continue down the directorial path. Also, casting your own dog (especially when he’s that adorable) is a stroke of genius!
The movie raises many questions about fame and what it means to “sell out,” which reviewers have had a variety of takes on. However, what I found most interesting was the dynamic between Ally, her manager Rez, and Jackson.
Put simply, Ally can’t win. The success of her relationship is threatened by the demands of her career as well as the way in which her achievements make Jackson feel less than. At the same time, Rez views Ally as a talent that he can mold into exactly the kind of star he wants, even if in doing so he is asking her to abandon the raw, real artist that first caught Jackson’s attention. Additionally, to Rez, Jackson is merely a ticking time bomb with the potential to completely derail his investment.
Throughout the second half of the movie, Ally is constantly made aware that she is disappointing one of them; the most brutal of these occasions is the blow-out fight when Jackson, preying upon her deepest insecurity as only a lover can, calls her “fucking ugly.”
In fact, much of the conflict between the three characters centers around her appearance, which morphs from folksy and minimalistic to all-out glitz and glamour as she dyes her hair and changes her wardrobe. No amount of fame or money can allow Ally to escape the male gaze, and as difficult as it is to admit, the patriarchy is just as much embedded in her lover as it is in the man profiting off of her.
The film’s soundtrack is a tour de force. Lady Gaga’s voice has the power to elicit chills and, as much as it pains me to admit, Bradley Cooper pleasantly surprised me. The album has been lingering at the top of the iTunes charts since it came out last week, a sizable feat for an album that includes tracks solely containing dialogue from the film.
“Shallow” is an instant classic, the kind of song that will remain stuck in your head for days. My friends and I already found ourselves mimicking Gaga’s crooning before launching into our own rendition of the chorus as we walked from the theatre to the circulator stop. My personal favorite is “Always Remember Us This Way,” which falls near the middle of both the film and its soundtrack and most aptly captures its tone.
If you’re looking for a movie with a concrete good guy and bad guy, A Star Is Born isn’t for you.
Cooper takes no prisoners in his attempt to delve into the nuances of artistry, mental health and addiction. The film is all the better for his boldness, even if at times the necessary exposition, especially around Jackson’s relationships with his father and brother, isn’t as clear as it could be.
Much like Ally, you may be left feeling drained at the film’s conclusion. But you’ll be grateful to have bore witness to the film’s narrative, which is arguably more culturally relevant and poignant than that of any other film released this year.