There’s a reason that A STAR IS BORN is the third remake of a film that was first released in 1937. We humans are hard-wired for love. In a perfect world and especially in this imperfect world where we all reside, we want to love and be loved in return. But love is not the be-all end-all for most of us. We want to use whatever talents we have to shine on stages little or large, to feel as though we’ve been infused with stardust. No wonder, then, that we keep running back to a Hollywood classic that melds both desires.
When Jackson Maine leaves his rock star-sized concert stage and stumbles into a drag bar, he isn’t looking for love or the next great voice. He’s only in search of another drink. In the tiniest of venues, he watches captivated as a young woman performs Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose.” Afterwards, he goes backstage to meet her. A little later Ally emerges fresh-faced from the dressing room–minus her dyed hair, vinyl eyebrows and other accoutrements. Jackson watches her as she watches him strum his guitar and sing a quiet tune for a couple of lingering employees, and he’s beginning to fall in love with her. In fact, unknown to her, their love story began when they first locked eyes while she was electrifying the small crowd with her French song.
I couldn’t wait to see this film. For all the above reasons. And to escape the emotional warfare surrounding the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings for the open Supreme Court seat. Christine Blasey Ford had testified. So had Judge Kavanaugh. The FBI was about to wrap up their one-week investigation. Pundits had weighed in from both sides. Women had come forward to tell their own never-before-told stories about being sexually assaulted by other men. This would not end well, no matter what the Senate decided. It would further polarize our country. But I didn’t want to think about it anymore–at least not for a couple of hours–and so I escaped into this movie’s story.
Ally only moonlights as a singer. She’s not expecting to make it big. While she knows she has talent (and plenty of spunk), she’s been told too many times that her looks are wrong. Her nose, in particular. But Jackson likes the way she looks. And he likes the snippet of song she sings for him later that night–a song that she wrote. Twenty-four hours later the errant knight (he’s addicted to booze and pills) comes to her rescue. He sends a car and a plane, and she’s whisked away from her waitress job and onto a big concert stage where Jackson is waiting for her. He tells her he’s taken the liberty of writing some background instrumentals for her song, and he coaxes her into singing it with him. She’s timid at first, but then she unleashes her voice. Her power. A star is born.
Casting Lady Gaga as Ally was a brilliant choice. We’re so used to seeing her as anything but her real self that to see her as the girl-next-door is a revelation. At the same time we know what she is capable of and she delivers. When she lets loose–beginning with “La Vie en Rose”–she thrills. And yet, the film was not the escape I had hoped for. Not because of Bradley Cooper. He looks and sings and acts the part of country rocker Jackson Maine. This film was his four-year baby, and he directed and co-wrote the script and some of the songs. It’s beyond impressive that he worked with a voice coach to lower his voice by a full octave because he felt he needed that voice to fully embody the character. Bradley Cooper deserves his kudos. The only real problem with the film, I think, is that it’s time to think about reworking the A Star is Born archetype. What we may need is a story where the man who champions the woman doesn’t have to self-destruct to allow her to reach her full potential.
Women who reach for the stars don’t want to see their men crash and burn. To be clear, Ally doesn’t want that either, but that’s what happens in this allegory. And maybe that’s the subliminal message that’s gone straight to the male psyche for all these years: Empowering a woman is a surefire way to rob a man of his own success. If you look at the Hollywood actresses who are part of the #Metoo Movement, what they want most is to be able to use their talents to shine and to work side by side with men without being subjected to sexual assault or rape. Again, to be clear, Jackson Maine crashes and burns because of his own demons. He doesn’t sexually assault Ally; theirs is a genuine love story. What I’m attempting to explore here is the overriding theme.
Whether you do or don’t believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, or even if you think her memory could be playing tricks on her or that teenage boys will be teenage boys, but they deserve a chance to grow up into much better adult men, the fact is we now have two male justices sitting on the Supreme Court who were accused of sexual assault or sexual harassment before they were sworn in. That’s a fact, no matter what each of us believes. So I worry about this Battle between the Sexes. What does it say to women when a very powerful man–a star, without question–calls Dr. Ford a “very credible witness” whose testimony was “compelling,” but, five days later–at a political rally–ridicules her testimony: How’d you get home? I don’t remember. Where was the house? I don’t remember. But I only had one beer, that’s all I can remember. That’s the news I saw the night before I went to see A Star Is Born; no doubt it played with my head and affected my enjoyment of the film, particularly the second half. Believe Dr. Ford’s account of the sexual assault or not, it’s a fact that sexual assault survivors often have lapses in memory. Did the President really need to ridicule her?
On a clear night when we look to the stars, there are too many to count and billions more that we can’t even see. Maybe it’s time to rethink A Star Is Born for the next go-round, to make a film that’s still bursting with love and talent and drama, but one in which the guy doesn’t have to die in order for the girl to shine her brightest. Maybe that often repeated storyline isn’t doing the male or the female psyche any favors. There’s room up in the heavens for more stars than we can ever imagine. Here’s looking at you, kid. Girl or guy, I’m just happy you’re up there.