WARNING: Major spoilers for A Star Is Born
A Star Is Born's ending undoes what could have been a Hollywood classic - but that's not exactly Bradley Cooper's fault. From its first version in 1937, A Star Is Born has always had a problematic resolution to its story, one that's only got worse over the past century, and this latest version is no different.
A Star Is Born is a classic story that Hollywood loves so much it's told it four times (with a suspiciously-similar earlier version, several failed attempts and many, many imitators). A top-of-his-game star (in 2018, Bradley Cooper's rock star Jackson Maine) is suffering from alcoholism and in a stupor discovers a struggling artist (Lady Gaga as Ally, a waitress moonlighting in a drag bar), falling in love with both her and her talent. He provides her with a big break, sending her fame into the stratosphere just as his addictions begin to derail his career. The pair marry, but despite their love things begin to fray.
Related: Read Our A Star Is Born Review
It's a tale of rags to riches, of falls from grace, of the power of love, and personal identity within all of that. And, for much of the runtime, A Star Is Born 2018 is genuinely a great version of all those stories. Gaga's first major concert leaves you floating, Cooper shows mental affliction with grace, both perform their songs incredibly (to actual live crowds, no less), and are utterly believable as troubled lovers. It is, for much of its runtime, a very good film worthy of that deafening hype.
However, everything implodes into a black hole of pretentiousness as what could have been a great film its own right has to follow through on being called A Star Is Born...
- This Page: The Problem With A Star Is Born's Ending
- Page 2: A Star Is Born's Ending Has Always Been Bad
- Page 3: Why Bradley Cooper Couldn't Fix A Star Is Born
What Happens In A Star Is Born's Ending
We'll stick with Cooper's take for now before going deeper into the past. A Star Is Born's third act is kicked off by Ally winning the Grammy for Best New Artist - a major step for her career, undercut entirely by Jack drunkenly taking to the stage with her and relieving himself on live TV. He goes into rehab and she wrestles with where her focus should lie, eventually deciding to try and protect her recovering husband. She cancels her European tour when her agent, Rez, blocks the duo playing together.
As a result, Jack kills himself. He's confronted by a seething Rez who has no sympathies or expectations of sobriety and states outright Jack's ruining his wife's career. When she matter-of-fact states the tour cancellation, he sees the impact of his actions and, while she plays a concert, he hangs himself in their garage.
This breaks Ally at first, leaving her emotionally distraught, before her understanding the meaning of Jack's sacrifice - to enable her to truly become the star he always saw - helps her pull through. The film ends at a tribute concert in Jack's memory. "My name is Ally Maine." she declares before singing "I'll Never Love Again", a song based on their relationship they wrote together while he was recovering. A flashback shows the pair singing, she looks through the camera at the audience, the end.
Why A Star Is Born's Ending Is Bad
Removing the ending of all presentation and self-imposed importance (a character looking into the camera at the end is an overused trope that Cooper simply doesn't earn), in just writing down the events of A Star Is Born its problems should be obvious.
Jack decides to kill himself to save his wife, committing suicide because it's the only way to set her free. This comes about two hours into a film which has slowly built up its numerous interpersonal relationships, and so comes as a drastic and rather unearned turn. Now, there is an argument to be made about accuracy to the unpredictability of mental illness, but given the intimacy audiences had with both Jack and Ally up until this moment, that doesn't fit with the rest of the film. A Star Is Born, plainly, presents suicide as the only way out. It's meant to come across as a selfless act but still values success as a true route to happiness, meaning anything emotional about the "gesture" is laced with hypocrisy.
But it's what comes after and Ally's coming to terms with her loss that's so disquieting. For all her innate talent being the drive of the story and her freely made decision to step back what motivated Jack to kill himself, the final scene makes everything about Jack; the mononymous singer for the first time takes on her husband's surname at his concert, where she performs a song that he helped her write in her original singer style. The suggestion is meant to be that Jack was holding her back, but in the shadow of the previous two hours the strange implication is that the act of a true star being born came from the adversity of Jack's sacrifice. Making Ally's success symbiotic to her dead husband is already heavily in the text of the film, but the final scene makes her final ascension even more indebted to his drastic act.
It's hard to not read A Star Is Born's ending as trivializing suicide down to a plot point to give the fundamentally broken male lead the defining role in its female protagonist's arc. It's a weird move to make in 2018, although don't believe this is just the product of an 80-year-old movie being remade. There's something flawed at the heart of A Star Is Born.