3 Stars – Challenging
Hollywood loves to remake films from its past, and A Star Is Born has been remade no less than seven times. This is a classic story of a rising musical talent who is given a chance to succeed by the unlikely connection that occurs when she comes into contact with an aging star who gives her a chance for stardom. The most well-known earlier versions featured Janet Gaynor and Fredric March (1937), July Garland and James Mason (1954), and Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson (1976).
In this well-developed cast, the leads are Ally (Lady Gaga) and Jack (Bradley Cooper). Jack has been singing on rock and roll stages for years and is now a functioning alcoholic surviving in cultural glory, but dying inside. After another show that leaves him more exhausted than enriched, he stumbles into a bar where he hears the voice of an angel. Despite their differences in age and experience, he is smitten with her fresh exuberance and she is star- struck with his attention to her.
The story is a classic attraction between someone on their way up with someone on their way down. Without giving away the story, we witness the best and worst of what fame seduces us into believing. It brings out the best of our talents, and it highlights the worst of our inner demons. Lady Gaga displays a vulnerability that we rarely see in her real-life stardom, and Bradley Cooper shares a singing talent that we never heard in a film before.
This is not a new story of hope and disappointment coming together, but it is well demonstrated in the lives of Ally and Jack, along with the reactions, hope, dreams, and disappointments of the extended family members whose lives are affected by this unlikely duo coming together. Ally’s father is living out his own hopes, dreams, and fantasies through his daughter, and Jack’s brother is seeing the same destructive behavior in Jack that he saw destroy their father.
A Star Is Born is not a morality play, but it gives us some of the same elements without drawing a conclusion. Can one achieve a large success in life without being destroyed by it? Does that success make it impossible to heal the wounds of the past because you can mask it with any substance you want? Here, we see the ultimate eventuality as the worst outcome. Is that our only choice?
We know that wishing for a better outcome, or creating fantasies about success, are not going to lead to happiness. If it did, the world would be witnessing this throughout history. People can fantasize about winning the lottery, but the statistical chances of that happening are almost non-existent. History shows us that only those with deep roots can withstand the winds of cultural adoration. Some of the best vocalists of our time, such as Whitney Huston, honed their talent in church choirs, only to die in the depths of a drug-induced despair.
What seems possible is that those who transition from “a star is born” to “a star succeeds” is due in no small part to the company we keep. Having a deep faith and a healthy family life is best maintained when we have people around us that share our commitments and hold us accountable. Otherwise, the false claims of stardom lead mostly to the graveyard of loneliness and despair.
The desire for fame is often a motivator for excellence. But as this film and many real-life stories reveal, fame is a two-edged sword. How have you experienced both the joy and sorrows of success?
When a mentor takes us underwing, we benefit from their experience but are often imprinted by their maladies. How have your mentors impacted you?
Who do you turn to as a model of a famous person who did not allow fame to harm them. How do you see them succeeding at success?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the former pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara and the former Lead Superintendent of the Free Methodist Church in Southern California. For more reviews: http://www.cinemainfocus.com/.