In 1998, Hollywood released two similar-seeming movies about comets, Deep Impact and Armageddon. In 2018, we’re getting not two but three different movies about stars. However, in this case, the stars are all fictional female musicians.
The Lady Gaga–starring, Bradley Cooper–directed film, A Star Is Born, which opens this weekend, is by far the most high profile, but two other indie films (both helmed by A-list actresses) are also in somewhat familiar territory. The Elisabeth Moss–led Her Smell offers a punk rock–tinged alternative, less concerned with a star being born than with one dangerously close to burning out. Meanwhile, Vox Lux, which finds Natalie Portman as a pop star who has some intriguingly Gaga-esque taste in stage costumes, concerns itself with the whole shebang: a star being born, dying by controversy, and then attempting a metaphorical rebirth. While all three ruminate on the nature of creativity and fame, and delve into addiction, as well, the similarities end there. Here, a quick guide for how to tell the three films apart and discover which may be right for you.
A Star Is Born
The Star: Lady Gaga The Director: Bradley Cooper The Lead’s Biggest Flaw: Insecurity about her nose. Log Line: An insecure performer at a gay bar has an accidental run-in with an alcoholic rock star who senses star power. Original Music Written By: Predominantly Lady Gaga and her regular band of collaborators (Mark Ronson, DJ White Shadow, Justin Tranter, et al.) Supporting Cast Surprisingly Dominated By: RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni (Willam Belli & Shangela) and era-defining (for better or worse) stand-up comedians (Andrew “Dice” Clay and Dave Chapelle). Actual Musicians in the Cast: In addition to Gaga, Halsey makes a brief cameo as herself. Actual Musician You’ll Be Most Reminded Of: Well, Gaga. Recommended If You Like: Joanne, Pat Benatar albums, Twitter memes, Vh1 Behind the Music, hanging out at half-empty gay bars during a drag show, nostalgia for when major studio films dominated the Oscars, the Gwen Stefani/Blake Shelton relationship, and not having to drive to the one indie cinema in town just to see a movie.
The Star: Elisabeth Moss The Director: Alex Ross Perry The Lead’s Biggest Flaw: Drugs, mental illness, delusions of granduer, and, as the title suggests, poor personal hygiene. Log Line: A rockstar has a series of breakdowns as her label realizes she might not have another album in her and signs the next-big-thing band instead. Original Music Written By: Alicia Bognanno and Anika Pyle, the actual lead singers of the bands Bully and Chumped. Supporting Cast Surprisingly Dominated By: British models who defined an era of fashion (Cara Delevingne and Agyness Deyn). Actual Musicians in the Cast?: Alexis Krauss, the lead singer of noise-pop band Sleigh Bells, has a part. Actual Musician You’ll Be Most Reminded Of: Courtney Love seems to be the obvious choice, but Moss says she would rather you compare her character to male rockstars like Axel Rose. Recommended If You Like: Riot grrl mixtapes, the first act of Olivier Assayas’s Clean, hanging out at punk bars until closing time, Diane Sawyer’s prime-time interviews of troubled divas of the ’90s.
The Star: Natalie Portman The Director: Brady Corbet The Lead’s Biggest Flaw: Coke, booze, and…brushes with terrorism. Log Line: A survivor of a school shooting becomes an iconic early-2000s pop star who experiences a breakdown and attempts a comeback in 2017. Original Music Written By: Sia! Supporting Cast Surprisingly Dominated By: Male actors with multiple Oscar nominations but no wins (Willem Dafoe and Jude Law). Actual Musicians in the Cast?: None. Actual Musician You’ll Be Most Reminded Of: The original description of the film sounded like it was at least partially inspired by Britney Spears, but Corbett says he’s taken inspiration from everywhere in the music industry (you could pin some inspiration on everyone from Lauryn Hill to Ariana Grande). Also, though: Gaga. Recommended If You Like: Don DeLillo’s Mao II, 2007’s tabloid culture, Lars von Trier movies, comeback tours, serious Internet think-piece reactions to trending celebrity news.