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A STAR IS BORN ( Movie Review )

The stage is a simple thing. Strip away its size, its sets, its rigging and pyrotechnics, and it's merely a platform—as flat and innocuous as a kitchen floor.

But as soon as someone steps onto that stage, it breathes. It almost sings itself, giving voice to drama or song. Eyes fix on the thing, unwilling to turn away. The stage comes alive, and those who watch are changed somehow. Sometimes the change is a fleeting thing, but every now and then the change lasts forever.

The people onstage are changed, too. Some hate or fear it. But for others, the stage, in all its incarnations in city and state and country, is home. Perhaps the only home they’ve ever known.

Jackson Maine lives most of his life under a hat. The brim hides his boozy eyes as he moves from show to show, from chauffeured SUV to private plane. When he speaks, his voice sounds like it’s been yanked, unwillingly, right from the ground, full of gravel and root. Everything about him suggests that he just wants to be left alone.

But when he steps onstage, the hat comes off. His hands move across strings and frets, and his voice rises like a country path: It rolls with the sonic hills and gullies, sounding off in confessional intimacy. He’s going deaf, he knows. His brother, Bobby, begs him to wear earplugs to preserve what hearing he has left. Jackson waves him off. They get in the way, Jackson says, between him and the audience. He’s more alive on stage than anywhere else, and he'd rather go deaf than deaden the experience.

Ally’s life is more pedestrian. She works as a server at a semi-swanky banquet hall, her supervisor swearing and belittling her whenever he sees her slink in. She lives with her dad in a modest little house, where she cooks and cleans and dreams.

But one night a week, at a local dive where wig-wearing drag queens populate the stage, she transforms. She paints her hair, tapes thin eyebrows to her face and becomes a torch singer—a Judy Garland, a Barbra Streisand, a Lady Gaga for her small room of cheering fans. There, she’s not just a plain-Jane kitchen worker, but a star, and her voice rises to the rafters like a wren.

Jackson becomes himself on stage. Ally becomes someone else. But they both feel at home.

But is it home? Home, a real home, doesn’t care a whit for album sales. It won’t kick you out when your fame begins to dim. The stage does. It always does.

They meet, of course. They fall in love. Jackson encourages Ally’s talent and tells her to be honest up on that stage—as honest as she’s ever been. “If you don’t dig deep in [your] soul, you don’t have legs,” he tells her.

But as the stage gives birth to one new star, cradling it and holding it in its spotlight, we see a darker truth behind: The stage, if it is a home, can change the locks at any time.

The stage, if it is a mother, sometimes eats its own.

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