I saw a Star is Born on Sunday but I waited a few days to write about it. If I had written the review right after the movie, it would have been ungenerous and unkind. In the theater where I saw the movie, there were people sobbing in their seats, audibly, and I was struck more by their emotion than by the movie. With that kind of tangible evidence, I certainly can’t argue with the gut punch effect of the movie. And, I can’t say anyone was manipulated into crocodile tears, because it certainly wasn’t a secret that this was going to be tragic love story told with all of the trappings of traditional melodrama. People weren’t manipulated into emotional reactions – they went there for that sole purpose. There’s a scene right in the beginning of the movie, where Lady Gaga’s character, Ally, dumps her boyfriend while she’s on a break from work. She’s hiding in a bathroom stall having this difficult conversation with the guy, and after she abruptly hangs up on him, she walks out of the stall, stares into the mirror, drops her head, stomps her feet, and let’s out a primal scream, followed by “fucking men!” Go ahead and scream, and cry and let it all out, friends, Lady Gaga has not only given you permission, she has shown you the way.
So, why didn’t I take her hand, just go with it, into the cathartic tears and the emotional release that the movie guaranteed? I certainly did in the second remake of A Star is Born, with Judy Garland and James Mason. When James Mason walks into the ocean, and the music swells, and later Judy is sobbing over her lipstick on the wall at Gruman’s Chinese Theater, I sat in my bed crumpling tissue after tissue. It’s the same story, after all, it should have gotten me. And, it wasn’t the fact that I knew how it was going to end – I’ve seen the Judy Star is Born at least five times, and I react the same way every time. It’s certainly not a talent thing – Lady Gaga has the pipes, and she’s a talented song writer. And this A Star is Born has been updated, as it’s certainly a more accurate portrayal of addiction. It should have spoken to me, right?
And, I think that it’s for those very reasons, that it doesn’t work for me. First, Ally is a more modern woman than the previous stars’ incarnations, but at the end of the movie, I still don’t know if she sold out by becoming a pop star, having been manipulated by her slimey manager, or if she is exercising her own agency, this pop star is the star she wants to be. I just don’t know. And, based on the set up of Ally’s character, the foot stomping in the bathroom, the punching of an off duty cop to protect Bradley Cooper’s famous rock star character, Jackson Maine, from an intrusion into his private time, the impulsive quitting of her job to not just run after a rock star, but run after something better for herself, I could only believe that a girl who’s going to belt a cop is not a girl who is going to be like, yeah, ok, you drink, I’m not going to try to change you, except to say once in awhile “that’s not ok,” and “this is the last time.” It’s more than hinted that her character has dealt with alcoholism before with her father, and therefore, she, unlike Judy Garland’s Esther Blodgett, absolutely knows that her love alone is not going to make him better. When she visits him in rehab towards the end of the film, and she tells him that his actions aren’t embarrassing, that he has a disease, she has known that this is a disease all along, yet, all we see her do to confront this illness is tell him, I won’t get on a bike with you when you’ve been drinking, I won’t come get you from the side of the road again. And, after she makes that little speech, she marries him – not even an hour later. He’s had a good talking to by Dave Chappelle so he’s cured? I don’t believe her character is that naïve.
And, I don’t think she’s that much in love either. Jackson Maine is an asshole. He’s disgusting. The first time she goes back to his hotel room, they’re making out, and he’s wasted, sweaty and the thought of the smell of him was enough to ruin my popcorn. He passes out, and his brother emerges out of nowhere to put him to bed. And then, after the brother leaves, Ally gets into bed with him – and waits for him to wake up so they can consummate this whatever it is. This is not romance, or love. This is just fear – she’s afraid of what will happen if she leaves. She just ditched her job, everything, to be with this guy, and now what? And that fear dictates her behavior the rest of the movie. She doesn’t trust her voice, she doesn’t trust her beauty, and she doesn’t trust she can make it without her creepy manager, and her verbally abusive, downright mean husband. And, she certainly doesn’t love him enough to try to help him. There’s never a moment in this movie when she acknowledges just how sick he is, or that he needs serious mental health treatment, and a lifetime of therapy. And the last thing she does do is lie to him, and she doesn’t even recognize what the lie is – the truth is, her creepy manager was never going to let her cancel that tour, and she didn’t really know what their future was going to be.
And in giving Jackson Maine a back story to his addiction, and making his drinking more about self-medication than over indulging in the rock and roll life style and the trappings of stardom, the movie introduces a mental health component to his addiction beyond alcoholism as a DSM V disease. This guy is not just suffering from alcoholism; he is clinically depressed, perhaps bi-polar, and he definitely has PTSD. His first suicide attempt was at 13. Suicidal ideation doesn’t just go away. He suffers from tinnitus – he’s not just trying to escape the noise of the crowd – he lives with a deafening noise in his head all the time. Everyone in the film kind of shrugs and says, he drinks too much. But, that’s not really what’s at the heart of this guy – it’s the agony he’s suffered since he was child – a child who tried to string himself up just to get the attention of an abusive father. So, when his brother, at the end of the movie, tells Ally that it was no one’s fault but Jackson’s, I think, well, yeah, but . . . instead of telling him “you drink too much,” you could have said, “I think medication and therapy might go a long way here.” Look, I don’t think anyone owed this Jackson Maine anything, but maybe I would have felt more if she had tried to help him before he ruined her Grammy night.
So, they cling to each other, she rises, he falls. She calls his cellphone a lot. And in between? There’s just no joy in this relationship, ever. I never for a second in this movie ever felt any happiness between the two of them. Nor did I ever enjoy being with them. Sure, there’s magic onstage, but that’s performance, not intimacy. When James Mason walks into the ocean, I felt like he was taking Judy with him. When Jackson commits suicide, I felt bad for the dog.
I started off by saying, that if I had written this right after I had seen the movie, I would have been ungenerous and unkind, and now that I’ve read this over, maybe I have been anyway, but I only meant my criticisms towards the movie itself. I certainly don’t want to be ungenerous and unkind to the people who were moved when they saw this movie. Just because I had problems with this movie, I can understand why someone else wouldn’t. A tragedy is a tragedy, who cares if it’s tragedy a or tragedy b. It was better than the Barbra Streisand version, so there is that. There are a lot of good things about this movie – I believed Bradley Cooper as a rock star, I liked Lady Gaga, the music is great, as are the concert scenes. I just wish they had just gone on tour together, instead of remaking one of my favorite movies of all time.
So, if you too go to a Star is Born looking for that promised emotional release, and instead you get disappointing popcorn because you can’t stop thinking about stinky Bradley Cooper, I’ll give you an alternative- Tracy Dogs Adoption Day. Tracy Dogs is an dog rescue in Texas, that saves dogs from high kill border shelters. After an online adoption process, the dogs board a bus, and go off to their new forever homes, that begin in a PetSmart parking lot. The bus parks, the new dog parents anxiously wait, and one by one, they bring the dogs off the bus, and into the arms of their new doggie parents. Every month there’s a live video. Sometimes like on Saturday, I caught it live, sometimes I watch the replay. And boy, do I cry those big crocodile tears of joy for these sweet puts. Time well spent, definitely!