by Ali Valdez
The timing of the new A Star is Born falls in line with Mental Health Awareness month. This Bradley Cooper remake is the fourth iteration of a timeless love story, mixed in a tragic cocktail of addiction, despair with a fading promise of hope. But what makes for good cinema does not a fairytale ending make.
Millions of us know all too well, oftentimes suffering in silence.
Who hasn’t been touched by depression, a childhood of neglect, addiction, or suicide? If it isn’t you, perhaps there’s someone you know. As an owner of a yoga studio and a lifelong teacher and mentor, I can say I know many. Too many. So many, a little piece of my heart breaking each time our paths cross, a prayer list that feels like playing favorites because it’s so long.
How people show up in life is not always a reflection of how they feel deep inside. Shame is an insidious demon, stealing from us the very connection that puts meaning into our humanity. Jackson Maine showed us a man tormented by a broken childhood, a disenfranchised journey into manhood with only his music barely keeping him alive.
That was until Ally came into his life. She had an alcoholic father, effortlessly falling into the role of well-intended codependent desperate for validation. When she gets it, she goes off the deep-end drunk on a fame of flippant pop tracks far beyond the soulful music she and Jackson made together in their combined misery and yearning for deeper meaning. She thought loving him would be the antidote to his pain, because that’s how codependents think. As her star ascended, his further spiraled.
Heaven was fleeting for both of them, but they shared glimmers of galaxies together, immortalized and told in their songs.
Whatever side of the equation you or someone you know may be on, chances are the hurt will come like a burgeoning, unforgiving tidal wave. The movie dignifies the many facets of mental illness for what they are: part of a disease endured by man, distorted by the brain, taxed heavily on the heart.
And it’s fucking unfair.
When I went to see it, I intentionally pre-purchased my ticket away from the people joining me. I wasn’t sure what kind of emotional reaction I would have, and I didn’t want to startle anyone, or take away from their experience (namely the music of Lady Gaga). The tone, pace, music matched strong acting and performances from the leads and bolstered by a surprisingly restrained supportive cast. It hit all the right notes, I cried but was held together by the earnestness of the story.
After I posted seeing it, there was commentary from people who experienced the movie as more of an event, a reckoning of a sort of suffering we all know exists, but doesn’t really live out loud like we see the characters so vulnerably do on the big screen. Without spoiling the ending, there is a quadruple hit that leaves most of the viewers’ emotional resilience a bloodied pulp by the very end. Typically, Hollywood doesn’t tell stories that way with such naturalism. Endings can be sad, of course, but this one didn’t play fair.
Rightfully so, because addiction doesn’t play by the rules. The punch to the stomach when you lose someone you love to mental illness, death or even relapse cannot be articulated in words- it’s hard to move past the stunned stillness of time. The movie does a worthy job of portraying it in frames, songs, blinking lights fading to blackness- the sense of devastation in Ally’s eyes.
Good movies tell stories that attempt to unravel aspects of the human condition, going into those unsettled niches that keep dwelling in the shadows. This isn’t about being entertained, it’s about engagement. It’s about feeling queasy and unsatisfied with the horrors of life, the danger and fragility of loving, yet choosing to rise up and resuscitate the heart that although shattered, still continues beating.