Before the 2018 remake of “A Star Is Born”, I had never heard of the story itself. However, I’m a fool for a good soundtrack-centric, music-themed movie (think “Begin Again” or “La La Land”) so the trailer immediately caught my eye. I love Bradley Cooper and can recognize and respect the sheer talent and bravado that Lady Gaga brings to everything she does, so I was immediately interested in the film. But then I caught some of the countless rave reviews, including many that said it was even better than expected. And then I saw the film with my own eyes and ears. And I’ve never cried in a movie theater before.
The film is raw and jumps right into the thick of the story, centering around fading alcoholic and drug addict rockstar Jackson Maine (Cooper) as he gets loaded just before finishing the rip-roaring gig that opens the movie. (Side note, Cooper actually has a pretty good voice. Who knew?) The set ends and he heads back to his car. After realizing there’s no booze left in the backseat he asks his driver to find him the first bar he can find. Jackson stumbles into a drag bar and, long story short, is given a front row seat to a lustful performance by Ally (Gaga) who sings an entire song in French. It all comes to a pulsing ending in which Gaga is lying on the counter directly in-front of Cooper, and with one look in each other’s eyes their entire world seems to stop (as does the film) as a match is lit from a true on-screen spark. After a night out of drinking and telling war stories, Jackson returns Ally to the house that she shares with her father. As she walks to the front door Jackson rolls down the window from the back of the car and calls her name. She turns to see what he wants. “I just wanted to get another look at ya’,” he says, smiling. Its pure cheesy romantic movie magic – but if you know me that is right up my alley. I’m just a sappy old soul, what can I tell you.
Now in any movie I believe that along with just having a genuine, believable story, dialogue and theme are of the utmost importance. The exchanges between Ally and Jackson are deep and raw and emotional. They hint at the character’s souls. And in one scene early on – one that all but sets the tone for the film – Jackson lowers his head and voice and tells Ally, the aspiring singer and performer, that she’s no different from anyone else. “Look, talent comes everywhere, but having something to say and a way to say it so that people listen to it, that’s a whole other bag. And unless you get out and you try to do it, you’ll never know. That’s just the truth. And there’s one reason we’re supposed to be here – to say something so people want to hear. So you got to grab it, and you don’t apologize, and you don’t worry about why they’re listening, or how long they’re going to be listening for, you just tell them what you want to say.”
I’ll save as many of the spoilers as I can, but as the film goes on we follow Jackson into another one of his shows, this time inviting Ally backstage after their spiritual night together – but with a catch. In a moment that feels entirely cinematic (in the best possible way) Jackson brings Ally on-stage to perform one of her own songs. The song “Shallow” is absolutely beautiful, and one that I’ve been listening to on-repeat for almost a week. The moment is the catalyst for the rest of the film as we follow Jackson through the next leg of his tour all while Ally accompanies him, slowly becoming more and more involved in the shows and performances.
Again, I’ll save the spoilers, but common sense shows that eventually Ally gets discovered and is put up for her own stardom, rather than just hanging onto the shredded coattails of Jackson Maine. Ally’s story progresses and Jackson’s kind of comes to a halt – which, obviously, leads to problems between the couple.
Throughout the film Jackson wrestles with alcoholism and a narcotic addiction while ironically singing the gut wrenching song “Maybe Its Time” (…”To let the old ways die…”) Ally is forced to take the brunt of it, simply doing her best to stand by her man through the ups and the downs, the good and the bad, the fantasy and the reality. She even performs a song “Always Remember Us This Way” which, as you can expect, is a beautifully melancholic heartbreaker.
The night sky is home to a seemingly incomprehensible amount of stars hanging above us. Its comforting to know that we’re really not all alone in the universe, but its also humbling, allowing us to understand just how small our problems actually are at any given time. But we are unaware if those stars are still shining brightly and are close enough (relatively speaking) to be seen, or if they are perhaps much, much further away, only visible after collapsing and exploding into the infinite cosmos, reaching our eyes and our skies as cosmic material is blasted out into the universe, giving way to the next stars and planets and galaxies and stories to be born.
Through it all, the film highlights two important themes. First, that no matter how talented you are, and regardless of what that talent is, if you are not willing to put your voice and message into the world, nobody will ever be able to hear what you have to say. But more importantly, the film teaches us that as human beings and as interpersonal creatures, sometimes all we can do is all we can do. Nothing more, nothing less. We can accept our shortcomings and do our very best to help those around us, all while doing our best to fix and sort ourselves out. Sometimes life startles you and gets in the way of things and clouds your judgment, inhibiting your ability to see those same stars shining down on us. Other times life gives you exactly what you never knew you needed. But its up to us to both recognize that offering and to let it into our lives.
“A Star Is Born” is a stunning and heartbreaking film, one that is raw and intense and gritty and personal and a hell of a directorial debut by Cooper, as well as having multiple knockout performances by Cooper, Gaga, and Sam Elliot, just to name a few. Its full of delicately crafted shots that come to life on the silver screen. The spectacle of it all is haunting and lingers long after the final shot of Gaga’s sharp face fades to black. Its definitely worth seeing in theaters with the surround sound speakers, too.
It will invade your heart and soul and make you realize the beautiful fragility of life, hopefully teaching us all to speak up, share our voices, and appreciate the stars in our own lives, as well as the opportunity that we all have to shine, ourselves.