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What would you give to be famous? Your family? Your friends? Your sense of self? When A STAR IS BORN was first written in the materialistic 1930s, the lure of success in the form of wealth and acclaim seemed irresistible. That someone who had lost the spotlight would fall into personal decline once he lived only in someone else’s shadow was totally understandable. How could he not!
Is personal degradation inevitable for a fallen star? Many who began as huge celebrities in music, film, even sports find satisfying personal lives and second careers in or out of the business. Yet we can readily cite countless lives wasted by the seductions of fame and privilege—stolen by overdoses, bankruptcies, careless accidents, and suicide. And we can’t avoid seeing the moral shallowness that accompanies those who come to believe their own hype. The pitfalls don’t change.
I never liked A STAR IS BORN in its many incarnations—in 1937, 1954, and 1976. In 2018, the old story was reworked with slightly variant emphases. I still don’t like it. First, I’m depressed by the idea—maybe the ugly truth—that talent doesn’t make a career. Hype does. (I’ve heard that’s true for writing novels.) Celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Elton John felt the need to cultivate a bigger than life persona. No wonder Lady Gaga found starring as Ally in A STAR IS BORN so challenging. I suspect early in her career real life managers assailed her with some of the lines used in the film. Perhaps her fans demand she maintains the flash, although she has proven her talent. Perhaps they like the flash best. (Her album with Tony Bennet showcased her singing, and her Oscar should stand as evidence of her song-writing prowess.)
Second, the concept of one career being made by scavenging another doesn’t appeal to me. Lives shouldn’t have to feed on one another. We’re more powerful than that as individuals. I understand Jack, the mentor, was supposed to be slipping into inevitable self-destruction from the beginning of the story, but these are depressing times. Speaking for myself, I needed to believe love could mitigate the gap between rising and falling careers. Love lasts longer than fame and can take priority. She didn’t have to bow to her manager’s wishes all the time. Freddie Mercury proved that listening slavishly to one’s manager (who looks for what’s selling) carries the danger of making you less unusual.
In Bradley Cooper’s version of the story, Jack demonstrates potential for redemption. He’s a song writer in addition to being a performer, isn’t he? People can and do redeem themselves (how about Robert Downey, Jr. as one example?). Suicide is a terrible, hurtful answer, even when the intention is noble. I think it’s almost irresponsible to offer it as an inevitable choice in a modern film. Too many go there out of despair.
Cooper’s version of A STAR IS BORN was well acted and beautifully performed, although I found the flow a little off balance—perhaps because Cooper was directing himself. Like LA LA LAND, the film just misses being satisfying for modern audience members like me. Today we need to believe in love as the most potent force on Earth. Materialism has let us down.