Warning: This article contains spoilers!
Amidst a year of political and social division, we should be glad to be granted the escape provided by A Star is Born, a musical exploration of love, emotion, and tragedy. We’re introduced to Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) as he prepares to go on stage, downing a handful of pills before heading towards the microphone. He’s not stumbling yet; he smoothly feeds his addiction, hiding it from his cheering fans. This same night, he meets his future wife, Ally (Lady Gaga) at a bar, ironically. Ally’s sultry performance of “La Vie En Rose” captivates the now-tearful Jack. The musical connection between Jack and Ally binds them. Yet, Jack’s addiction pulls them apart. Ally tries to support Jack in his battle, but their combined efforts cannot overcome the lingering weight of Jack’s childhood issues. We hope so deeply that Jack will be saved, somehow, but the movie concludes with a melancholy tone. Jack commits suicide, and Ally, in tribute, sings “I’ll Never Love Again.”
The movie ends, and the audience is left crying.
After 24 hours of listening to “Shallow” on repeat and attempting not to cry in public, I’ve tried to figure out why I (and everyone in my theater, according to the chorus of sniffling I joined while the credits rolled) felt so deeply impacted by the film. It was not a particularly unique movie. The camera flowed simply from character to character, Ally and Jack’s characters felt familiar, and the romance was quite normal. After all, it was the third remake of A Star is Born. Yet, the characters felt so familiar that I could identify with them. I could relate to Ally’s attempts to remain strong and stoic amid the chaos of Jack’s addiction. I understood Ally’s willingness to sacrifice for success as she slowly eroded the personality of her music. I believe that the authenticity of the characters and purposeful simplicity of the movie made it profoundly resonate with the audience.
The act of being true to oneself really depends on the individual. Some people are naturally impulsive, wild, and carefree; others are calculated, determined, and driven. I personally feel I am the truest form of myself when I am vulnerable, which is why I found myself falling in love with Bradley Cooper’s character.
Jack’s childhood was difficult. From daily fights with his brother and father to an early introduction to addiction, any close friend could have easily predicted his future. The remnants of Jack’s childhood continued into his adulthood, as we see when he leans on to the comforting nature of alcohol when he feels Ally drifting further into the world of pop music.
Yet, he remains vulnerable. We see a peek of this as Jack says goodbye after his first meeting with Ally, when he delivers the adorable, “I just wanted to take another look at you.” His childlike, caring, and vulnerable side reappears when he apologizes to Ally at the dance studio after their bathroom fight. It most obviously manifests at the rehab center. Ally brings the handwritten lyrics to “I’ll Never Love Again” and coaxes him to discuss his emotions. He breaks down into tears, speaking in a way that mimic the lyrics of his song: “I’ll never love again.” Jack, being his most authentic self, is full of loving vulnerability.
Ally starkly contrasts with Jack. We meet her powerfully walking through the kitchen of a restaurant, where she works her day job. She seductively sings “La Vie En Rose,” a performance that enchants Jack at a bar after his introductory show. When Jack stumbles onto the stage of the Grammy’s, drunk beyond belief, Ally holds him up and powers through her speech. Only one scene in the entire movie does Ally not stand strong or keep Jack from crumbling. This happens at the end, after Jack commits suicide. Ally cries through the conversation with Jack’s brother, Bobby (Sam Elliott), after Jack’s suicide. Here, we see Ally being vulnerable and open. If we consider Jack’s authenticity to revolve around vulnerability – we see it in his demeanor, but also in his slow and romantic country tunes – we might say that Ally was hiding herself until the final scenes. But, is this necessarily her most authentic self?
The creation of art comes from the deepest part of our being. Jack taps into that and releases it in his music. Ally, at the start of the movie, seems to do the same. The melancholy lyrics of “Shallow” seem to be authentic to Ally’s taste and inner self: “In all the good times I find myself / Longing for change / And in the bad times I fear myself.” By the end of the movie, her music has become more mainstream and pop. Instead of singing about fear and love, she’s saying, “Why do you look so good in those jeans? Why’d you come around me with an ass like that?” It’s a representation of the influence of her manager Rez (Rafi Gavron), who encourages her to take on a pop persona to become successful. During the movie’s final moments, we conclude with the heartfelt “I’ll Never Love Again.” The words are mainly Jack’s, yet Ally sings them. It was Jack who encourages her to be herself; it was Jack who, in the end, leads her away from the influence of the world and back to her heart.
The question of whether Ally’s pop music is true to herself, and if we got more than a glimmer of Ally’s true personality, is hard to separate from the life of the actress who played her. Lady Gaga’s career is very similar to Ally’s. We see the transition away from pop with her albums “The Fame” and “Joanne.” We could assume that Lady Gaga only made the album because she was seeking fame, and thus conclude that Ally was doing the same. But, this is a generalization of pop music and its meaning. A conclusion about Ally’s authenticity is difficult to make. What we can safely say is when Ally and Jack were together, they brought out the most beautiful and intrinsic sides of each other.
At the end of A Star is Born, my sister and I agreed that the movie was a lot like our childhood favorite Selena. And, just like Selena, I’m sure I’ll be re-watching this movie more than a few times.