Many actors, at some point in their life, make the leap from onscreen to behind the camera, from actor to director. But it is a rarity that in their directorial debut, they are able to prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they have as much talent off-screen as they do in the spotlight. But with A Star Is Born, Bradley Cooper has shown he is one of the few exceptions.
Cooper pushes himself in so many ways with this film. Not only did he co-write and direct it, he also plays leading man, Jackson Maine. He spent hundreds of hours perfecting his voice and learning how to play the guitar like a pro, before he even knew if the film was going to go ahead! To direct a film that you star in is a balancing act. Give yourself too much or too little screen time, and the film will suffer. But Cooper finds his balance with seeming ease.
What struck me most about Cooper’s directing is that every shot is so incredibly intimate. Cooper isn’t afraid to dig under the surface, taking his audience to the most beautiful and heartbreaking places. And while the film contains countless examples of this, there’s one scene in particular I need to talk about. Warning, there are major film spoilers ahead.
Throughout the film, Cooper’s character, Jack, struggles with both alcoholism and addiction. But after months of rehab, he gets to come home to Ally and their dog, and things seem like they actually might turn around. Until Ally’s manager drops by and convinces Jack that Ally loves him too much to tell him how bad he is for her. That through his actions when he was under the influence, he nearly derailed her career, and he wants them nowhere near each other when she makes her comeback. Jack soaks up every word as if they were the last words he’d ever hear. And after saying goodbye to Ally that night before she leaves for her concert, he makes the decision to end his own life.
When a film or show contains a suicide scene, it almost always causes an uproar. Too often it is romanticized. But that’s not the case at all with this heartbreaking scene, a scene that is almost too painful to watch. After taking the last of his pills that he hid, the camera focuses in on his feet as he stumbles out of the truck. It moves to his lower back as he undoes his belt and holds it one hand. With the other, slowly and with extreme hesitation, he puts down his hat. And in this one shot, a shot where we do not see his face, so much emotion is captured. In this single shot, we feel the weight of the entire film.
There is no dramatic swelling of the music as he shuts the garage door. There is no last phone call. Ally does not get some gut feeling and rush home. As he takes his own life, she is on stage, performing their song and wondering why he isn’t there, having no idea how much her life is about to change.
There is a reason the theater fell silent at this scene. There is a reason that every single person was crying. Because whether or not you’ve known someone who has committed or thought about suicide, who has struggled with addiction or depression, this scene is heartbreaking regardless. Because it does not ask, it makes you think about your loved ones. It makes you think about everything you don’t want to think about. About the times when the person you love says they’re fine, but meant the opposite. This scene, and truthfully, this entire film, is a reminder that we have no idea what’s really going on in someone’s head, or the pain in their heart. It reminds us to treasure those we love and the time we have with them.
Cooper’s direction is such that we are no longer just an audience, we’re more than that. We become part of Jack and Ally’s story. The film itself is a raw, human experience, filled with the best and worst things life has to offer. And Cooper manages to keep us right there, with Jack and Ally, through every single second of it. His direction is inspired, artistically stunning, and intimate in the truest sense of the word. A Star Is Born not only features the best performance of his career, it also is the most incredible of directorial debuts. I cannot wait to see what he does next.
A Star Is Born Is In Theaters Now.