Film Review: “A Star is Born”

The Millennials’ take on the classic tale

Each generation has its version of A Star is Born. Bradley Cooper’s adaption is the forth version the world has seen this film. Originally debuting in 1937, then 1954, then again in 1976. All of which have the same title and same basic story about a woman’s journey into stardom. But each generation is different and has a different story to tell.

The film follows Jackson Maine (Cooper), a middle-aged country-rock star who is always drunk. One night, he stumbles into a bar and finds Ally (Lady Gaga), a shy thirty-year old waitress with a thunderous voice. Jack, captivated by her beauty and talent, quickly takes her under his wing and shows the world her talent. The stage partnership quickly turns into a romance and as Ally rises to pop stardom. Jack continues to drink and pop pills.

This is Cooper’s directorial debut and he already entered the conversation as being one of the best directors of the year, which is true. Everything that makes this film successful is because of Cooper. He beautifully brings his audience into the concert experience by filming at locations like Coachella and was able to translate the grand scope of rock concerts while also giving the audience a VIP experience. The film is lyrical, grand, and intimate, all in result of Cooper and cinematographer Matthew Libatique who showed the audience the universal language of music and the effect it can have on people.

Even though this film is told from Jack’s point of view, it’s ultimately Ally’s story and Cooper knows that. It’s her journey we watch, therefore in order for the movie to work, the audience has to fall in love with her as much as Jack does. We meet an insecure waitress who’s given up on her dream and watch her slowly prove to the world, and herself, that she’s an amazing singer-songwriter. Pervious actresses that played Ally are Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland, and Barbra Streisand meaning Lady Gaga had huge shoes to fill, which she did. Gaga accurately depicts Ally’s shyness effortlessly in the beginning that it’s impossible not to love her. Gaga is strong and holds her own which is a testament to Cooper’s direction. He’s able to guide her through the film and let her shine without her even noticing it. For when she’s uncomfortable acting, especially in scenes that poke fun at the music industry, she makes up for them in the music performances. It’s only in these moments that the audience remembers that they’re watching Lady Gaga, the pop-star. She’s scared yet feisty, strong yet vulnerable, open yet self-conscious. Ally is a tough character, especially for someone’s first character. But Gaga stepped up to the plate and showed true potential for an acting career if she wants it.

Cooper also gives himself the role of his career. This version of Jackson Maine is unlike any Jackson Maine we’ve seen before. Cooper’s Jackson is a simple and quiet soul that loves music and sharing it with the world. He values truthful song-writing and being true to one’s self. He’s got the country swagger and essence of a rock star but hides behind a damaged soul that you can only see in his eyes.

The concept behind ‘a star is born’ is quiet simple to understand: in order for a star to born and therefore rise, another one has to fall and die. This concept might have been spot on for the other incarnations but not Cooper’s. In this version, Jack never becomes jealous or villainous as Ally’s surpasses him in the industry. Instead, Cooper focus on the love story between Jack and Ally. Even though Ally is in a relationship with an alcoholic, a fact she was aware of from the beginning, she still loves and supports him. They are a strong and stable couple so jealously never becomes a conflict in the film. Perhaps because, in this version, Jack isn’t a struggling musician. He has no problem selling out (huge) arenas, going on tours, and having concerts with encores. Yes, Jack might not be the artist he once was, but the public still loves him. His star isn’t burning out. It might have lowered a little bit, but Jack doesn’t seem to mind.

But even though the film doesn’t depict jealously, it’s still a dramatic film. It’s a love story and a film about music but also a film about fame, the cost of it, and addiction. The film shows the eat-or-be-eaten world of entertainment and shows how an aspiring artist can enter the industry as one person and become a whole other individual once they become a ‘hit’. All of a sudden, Ally has a new look and wardrobe, and writes songs that are meaningless yet become double platinum. As Ally becomes a completely different person, Jack drinks more and more.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t allow the full story to sink in. At the end of the day, we don’t root for Ally and Jack as much at the end as we did in the beginning and we’ve seen dozens of films that depict addiction much better. Maybe it was the script, the emphasis on Jack instead of Ally in the second half, or the fact that moments were never fleshed out enough. Instead of cutting a scene off or having a montage behind a song, Cooper could have filmed an entire scene about Jack’s addiction which would have made the audience understand the character’s struggle. The audience constantly waits for that big scene jaw-dropping scene, but it never happens.

With its strengths and weaknesses, A Star is Born is one of Hollywood’s greatest achievements. It’s a story told differently in result to the time it was made and the artists who created it. It shows a specific generation’s view on fame, love and the struggle to maintain one’s identity. Sure, there are issues but it’s still enjoyable and accompanied with a great soundtrack by one of our greatest pop stars. But, this isn’t the last we’ll see of this story and I’m interested to see how this story will evolve in 30 years when the next one is released.

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