By Priyanka Sarkhel (‘20)
DISCLAIMER!: This review contains SPOILERS!!
A Star is Born is a story of love and heartbreak that has been remade four times; it is a tale that Hollywood and even Bollywood loves to revisit and retell. In 2018’s version, Lady Gaga, a renowned Grammy-winning pop singer, stars in her first big screen protagonist role as Ally alongside Bradley Cooper’s character, Jackson Maine.
Cooper not only played one of the main characters, but A Star is Born is his directorial debut as well.
The film is receiving a lot of Oscar buzz and has been nominated for several Golden Globes including best Actress and Actor in a Motion Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Song for the song, “Shallow.”
The first version of A Star is Born came out in 1937, and starred Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. In 1954, the story was retold by Judy Garland and James Mason. Then, in 1976, Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson starred in the third remake. There was also a Bollywood remake of the film known as Aashiqui 2, which came out in 2013. It starred Bollywood actors Shraddha Kapoor and Aditya Roy Kapoor.
In the 2018 version, Cooper plays a self-destructive rock-country singer named Jackson Maine. Maine struggles with drug and alcohol addiction while also suffering from depression and past demons. His mental state is exacerbated by his shaky relationship with his brother, Bobby (Sam Elliott), and memories of his rough childhood. Bobby holds a grudge against his younger brother, claiming that Maine stole his fame.
Ally is an unknown singer-songwriter born to an Italian family with a Frank Sinatra enthusiast for a father. She works as a waitress, but her heart belongs to music. In fact, she is well aware that she is talented and she is not one to give up without a fight, unlike past versions of the film in which the lead actress is portrayed as wholesome and innocent.
To portray the role of Ally, Lady Gaga wipes off her makeup and returns to her natural hair color. It is a challenge to return to the person before the glitz and the glamour, and Gaga pulls it off spectacularly. Her voice, just like her character, is raw and stripped of everything artificial.
Maine and Ally meet at a drag bar where Gaga is belting out “La Vie En Rose,” the classic Edith Piaf song. Entranced by her voice, already famous Jackson Maine decides to make Ally his protege.
Both Cooper and Gaga achieve a greater authenticity in their acting because every song that they sing throughout the movie is sung live. The most prominent song in the A Star is Born Soundtrack is “Shallow.” In the movie, the song is written in a convenience store parking lot after the duo escapes from a bar fight together.
A Star is Born is a story of one star’s fall and one star’s rise. Amid their love story, Jackson Maine drowns in alcohol and lines of cocaine while Ally soars to the top, eventually getting a new manager named Rez (Rafi Gavron) and winning a Grammy for her debut album. The movie explores the consequences of dealing with mental illness while handling a relationship and fame.
While Ally succeeds, Maine only delves into his depression even further, specifically after Ally begins to fully invest herself in the music industry with her new manager, glamorous outfits, and over-the-top stage performances. It is the classic, “will she or won’t she lose her authentic self in the artifice of the glitz and glamour?” But, this movie doesn’t necessarily resort only to that conflict, but addresses the repercussions that one partner’s rapid success can bring to a relationship.
Maine can’t handle that Ally becomes so successful so fast. He prefers her the way she was when they first met: wearing no makeup and only by his side while doing shows around the country. When she establishes herself with an independent career, he cannot handle the change. His resentment for Ally peaks when he tells her that her ‘new’ self “is ugly” while arguing. Maine cannot find his place in Ally’s life anymore, and he grasps for her attention while embarrassing himself in the process. This is shown when he wets himself on the stage of the Grammys, full on drunk, while Ally accepts her Grammy for “Best Debut Album”.
The imbalance in their relationship, paired with the complications of Maine’s mental health and Ally’s struggle to support her love no matter what outlines the struggles of depression and addiction, along with the consequences that come with it. Maine not only hurts himself with his drunkenness, but he hurts Ally and his brother the most. He is inherently flawed, and when he falls, he brings his loved ones down with him.
After going to rehab and deciding to take a break with Ally in an isolated cabin, Maine is still broken and guilty. Rez, Ally’s manager, pays him a visit to remind him that Maine is not good for Ally and that he ruined her career when he embarrassed her at the Grammys.
Overcome with guilt and feeling like a burden on someone he has grown to love, Maine takes his own life by hanging himself while Ally performs at a show.
A Star is Born is unique in the sense that it takes the road of darker themes while telling the same story. Cooper adds complexity to Jackson Maine, enough so that one cannot decide whether he is likeable or not. Maine is a distinct representation of how depression and anxiety can lead to self destruction, which does not just affect the person struggling with mental illness, but everyone around him.
Overall, A Star is Born tells a heartbreaking, yet beautiful story without romanticizing depression and anxiety, instead showing the reality of mental illness on a person’s life. It will be no surprise if this movie lands several Academy Award nominations.