By Michael Nacey ’19
A Star is Born is an old movie. This 2018 version is the third update of the 1937 original, following a 1954 version and a 1976 version starring Barbara Streisand. A Star is Born has an old story, a romance, mixed with a second old story, a rags-to-riches tale. But this version of A Star is Born is different. It has a new director, who also happens to be its star, Bradley Cooper, and it feels new, alive, and engaging.
The movie focuses on its two leads. Cooper plays an alcoholic rock star named Jackson Maine, who’s slowly fading away while Gaga plays a waitress and drag-club singer named Ally. They meet pretty quickly, and through some great acting, it’s pretty obvious where the movie will head over the next hour or so. Ally says she could never make it in the music business because her nose is too big, so Jack rolls down his SUV window after their first date just to say he wanted to see her face again. Jack wonders why, at a certain level, every celebrity starts to be called by their first and last names, so Ally starts calling him Jack. Their growing love is palpable, like most of the emotions in this movie, and it pulls you in and warms your heart while giving you some great songs to go along with the plot. There’s a scene in one of the trailers of the movie where Ally writes a song in a grocery store parking lot for Jack, which is followed by Jack pulling Ally onstage to sing that same song. It’s a lot of fun to watch.
Of course, there is a wild card in this relationship, however. Jack, being an alcoholic and a rock star follows his rock star tendencies more than moderation, pulling him and Ally into a downward spiral that endures despite his attempts to stop it. Jack’s alcoholism causes a lot of pain: He calls Ally ugly, he punches his brother Bobby (Sam Eliot without his usual crooked grin) in the face, and he pees in his pants when Ally wins her first Grammy. The stakes are high for unstable people in the limelight, and Jackson Maine really can’t handle himself. But stars are born through conflict.
Because this is the fourth version of this movie, I had to do a little research on it compared to the other three versions. Each one is relatively similar, although they all reimagine the story of A Star is Born in distinctly unique ways. The first has no songs, no color, and centers around an aspiring actress. The second stars Judy Garland as an aspiring actress and is the epitome of a musical. The third makes Barbara Streisand a rock star and makes the short list of bad remakes not made in the 21st century, and then there’s this version. The constant in every version is the alcoholism of the male lead. They each embarrass themselves and their partners somehow, and this 2018 version of A Star is Born references these moments and makes them more emotional and disappointing.
Meanwhile, the movie transcends the limitations of a love story just by presenting a really good love story. The star is believable, supportive, and volatile. The rising star is hopeful, ambitious, and disappointed. The whole movie is shot with handheld cameras, mostly through close-ups of its stars faces. It lets you see their love and their lives through their eyes, and the movie is much more intimate because of that, despite it having very famous locations in it (Coachella for one). On top of that, the music gets stuck in your head and the variety of emotions in the movie line up to create an incredibly emotional and epic story out of the lives of two struggling people. If you can’t tell already, I think you should see it.
Another one of the scenes from a trailer of this movie is when Jack’s brother Bobby talks about the twelve notes of music, and that scores of songs, stories, and scores have been told through those twelve notes. There’s a theory about telling stories like that too, which says that three stories have been told endlessly for centuries. There’s a wise man that said that all musicians have been shackled to those twelve notes for 700 years, and that’s a blessing. There are limitations to everything, but those limitations are what cause creativity. Once an individual gets past the thought that everything has been done before, they can do anything. That’s not because that’s not true, everything has been done before, it’s that no one tells the same story in the same way as another person.