How “A Star is Born” Stacks Up Against Previous Versions

Earlier this month the highly-anticipated film A Star is Born, starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, was brought to theaters. The film centers on main character Ally, portrayed by Gaga, and her rise to stardom after having met and fallen in love with the already-famous, Jackson Maine, portrayed by Bradley Cooper. With an untouchable chemistry both on and off stage, the couple embarks on a sometimes smooth and other times rocky road to fame and success, tugging at the audience’s most vulnerable of heartstrings.

Despite its positive reviews, the film wasn't guaranteed to be a success, as Cooper noted it was Gaga’s first time acting in a feature-length film, his first time singing on-screen, and the third time the film has been remade from the original 1937 movie. Having been created in spite of such high stakes, I was eager to watch the previous remakes of the film in addition to the original, respectively starring Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, and Janet Gaynor.

To my surprise, each version of the film had distinctive elements making it difficult to pin each version up against one another and ultimately label one as best. Rather than detailing on how the scenes varied from one another and how certain events played out, I wanted to discuss the distinctive elements of each film and how they differ from the present-day remake.

In each version of the film, the female lead assumes a different type of persona. In the 1937 original, the leading female is shy yet assertive in her aspirations. Despite the number of people discouraging her from pursuing a career in the unsteady business of Hollywood, Blodgett treads uphill to make her dreams a reality. Similarly, Streisand’s character in the 1976 remake is head-strong and confident in her abilities, having a zero-tolerance policy for the childish behavior of her on-screen lover portrayed by Kris Kristofferson. Shockingly enough, out of the many female leads, Gaga’s character, renamed Ally, is arguably the most timid. Ally lacks the sense of self-worth she needs in order for her career to advance, a seemingly hard to believe characteristic when pinned on the face of a star who wore a meat dress to an awards show.

In addition to the varying personas the female lead takes on with each portrayal, the persona of the leading male character similarly varies between versions. The male lead, having various names in each version from the 1937 Norman Maine to the 2018 Jackson Maine, is each flawed in one way or another; flaws that end up taking a toll on the success of their female counterparts. In the 1937 original, Norman Maine is characterized as a burned-out actor, lacking the public’s support to continue to flourish in the film industry. Having this in mind, I entered the 2018 version where Cooper plays Jackson Maine, expecting him to similarly express a burned-out nature. Contrary to my expectations, Maine’s downfall occurs on a more personal level in the 2018 film, only partially seen through the public eye. Rather than focusing on the trials and tribulations of losing the fame a star once had as was the case in the 1937 film, the 2018 film centers on the personal and relationship problems Maine encounters due to his struggles with substance abuse. Needless to say, the film utilizes its platform to discuss complex issues, ranging from substance abuse to mental health, that have become more acceptable topics of discussion since past remakes were released.

The last element of the new Star is Born remake I want to touch on has led me question how previous versions of the film came to be. There were striking similarities between the experiences of Gaga’s character, Ally, and the real-life experiences Gaga endured herself amid her real-life rise to fame. Prior to her “Just Dance” and “Bad Romance” days, Gaga found herself performing as a go-go girl to make ends meet and waitressing at a restaurant in Lower Manhattan. Her character, Ally, performs at a gay bar where her talents can be seen and heard, following her shift as a waitress. Additionally, Ally’s insecurities are discussed in the film and mirror those of Gaga’s as she was struggling to acquire fame in real-life. Gaga has noted in recent interviews that executives told her to change her nose if she wanted to become a star, a physical trait her character Ally claims contributed to her lack of stardom. With that being said, the film left me to question how much previous versions of the film were geared around the real lives and experiences of their leading actors and actresses. The film tells a story common to many people aspiring fame and fortune, just as the 2017 movie La La Land did. Unfortunately, there are elements of the film that leave the audience wanting answers to this pending question.

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