A Star is Born is a remake of a remake of a remake of a remake and it also contains all the clichés in the book. A Cinderella tale of an established aging star meeting a young girl – who of course sings like an angel. Then the films morphs into a popstar tale with all the usual, the fight to stay honest and of course a good dose of the alcoholism of a fallen star thrown in for good measure.
And yet, and yet, despite all of that this is actually a fine movie. There are three main reasons for that. First and foremost, the actors are amazing. Lady Gaga is damn good, Bradley Cooper is heart-breaking and Sam Elliott’s moustache deserves it’s own category at the Oscars, since they’re so interested in making new categories.
The second reason is how the film finds the truth in the quiet moments and the third is how in addition to the raging alcoholism the male lead, Jackson, is slowly going deaf. Jackson Maine is already a superstar when the film starts, playing stadiums, it’s all very professional but this is industrial pop music, we can feel his soul is elsewhere – probably in a bottle at the next bar.
The next bar surprisingly turns out to be a drag bar where Ally, that is Lady Gaga, is allowed to perform along with the drag queens and Jackson is smitten right away by this undiscovered singing diva – and then, when he’s waiting for her, one of the drag queens convinces him to sing her a tune. Then we finally hear his real voice, when all the bullshit is stripped away.
When the world slows down, and he can finally hear himself. This is a film about the quiet moments – in a world where they are few and far apart. And then I’m just taking about the daily life of most of us – not to mention a pop star on tour, with a bottle of Jack in one hand and signing the breasts of fans with the other.
The Truth Within the Cliché
There is some mystical connection between Jackson’s losing his hearing and his alcoholism and his underlying unhappiness. He’s still a big star but his career is already fading when he meets Ally – and his fatherly advice to her about staying true to herself might easily be translated to: “Don’t become like me.”
Yet while she isn’t a drunk like him, she still struggles to hold on to her honesty in the face of a smooth British agent who does his best to change her into a pop star with dyed hair and gets her to spend more time in the dance studio then the recording studio.
This is a film about the entertainment industry that chews on talent and spits it out, changes it according to its own delusional ideas about what they think people want to hear – and that in itself is nothing new, but rather how they react. Him by leaning to the bottle and losing himself there, her by stop standing by herself. Jackson is also quite contradictory when it comes to Ally’s growing success – a part of him is jealous while another part of him truly wants the best for her – but unfortunately both those parts come to an agreement in doubting the change her agent is forcing on her, meaning well-meaning Jackson is poisoned by jealous Jackson, while trying to convey the message they both agree on.
It must be said that the very best scenes in the film are the very first, not just when they meet at the drag bar but also when they hang out at the curb by a 7-11 exchanging stories and tunes. Yet the film remains magical when those quiet moments come – like when Ally hangs out with her dad (Andrew Dice Clay) and his old school friends, telling stories about how he was better then Sinatra way back when, also when Jackson meets an old buddy in Dave Chapelle, an old sailor who’s found his way to shore in Memphis.
Therefore, the film really is about the search for those magical moments within all the noise, the search for honesty and an honest tune, saying something that matters. The search for the love they keep losing and must constantly find anew. And even the search for truth within the cliché.
Text: Ásgeir H Ingólfsson