Movie Review: A Star Is Born is a Well Made Movie–Not a Good One
Ever since I watched A Star Is Born, I have been listening to the soundtrack on a loop, most of the songs are dramatic power ballads espousing the greatness of love and by the end of last song, I always find myself tearing up. All of this is really frustrating because A Star Is Born as a movie, is straight trash.
Before I go into all of the reasons this movie is truly horrendous, I would like to acknowledge the amazing performance put on by Lady Gaga. Considering that this was Gaga’s acting debut, it is outstanding that she manages to outshine her costars. It would be so easy to play the protagonist Ally, using the confident-on-the-outside-but-insecure-on-the-inside trope, but Gaga makes sure that the audience knows that Ally cannot fit into one box, that her view of herself and the relationship she has with the rest of the world is layered and dynamic, and that her confidence and insecurity exist in tandem, both equally real and valid.
The real tragedy of this movie is that it had so much potential. The performances are compelling, the soundtrack is spectacular, and even though this is the third remake of A Star Is Born, Cooper’s direction gives the film an emotional quality the previous versions lack. A Star Is Born well-made movie but it is not a good movie.
The fact that most of the reviews of this movie are content with it being classified as a romance is jarring. In my opinion, a more accurate classification is cautionary tale, mental health horror movie, thriller (in the sense that it makes you angrier as each minute passes which is its own kind of thrill), etc. Dramatics aside, this movie imparts really damaging lessons for women, displays an inaccurate relationship between emotional abuse and alcoholism, and reinforces harmful ideas about addiction.
Ally Maine takes care of the men in her life with little reward and no agency. Jackson stalks her and doesn’t care about her work schedule (but I guess being demanding and inconsiderate is romantic as long as you have a private jet) her father and his friends rely on her to do all of the domestic duties even though she works full time, and her manager constructs her pop image with very little input from Ally and when she expresses concern he very patronizingly reassures her. I was expecting Ally to come to her senses and break with her label. She does break with her label but for her husband’s sake, for her husband’s feelings, to her own detriment.
The film tries to sell the idea that Jackson’s love for Ally is pure and intense, but it is his depression and alcoholism causing him to sabotage the relationship, however this undermines the fact that Jackson is severely insecure regarding Ally’s immense success and very pointedly tries to make her feel guilty for it. Ally is talented, and she is confident in her talents but her insecurities surrounding her looks is her fatal flaw. When Ally is nominated for a Grammy, Jackson confronts her and tells her that he feels like he “failed her” because he doesn’t agree with her image construction, when Ally understandably gets defensive and calls him out on his jealousy, he calls her ugly. A common argument on the behalf of Jackson is that he didn’t mean it and that his own insecurities on his lack of success caused him to lash out. However, using your loved one’s vulnerabilities to make them feel bad about themselves when you feel bad is straight out of Emotional Abuse for Dummies
Finally, perhaps the most troubling element of the movie is Jackson’s suicide. It is important to note that Jackson’s alcoholism worsens as Ally’s independence increases. Eventually, Jackson goes into rehab and things are looking up for the couple and Jackson apologizes for all of his terrible behavior. Ally’s label is not willing to bring Jackson on tour with her and as a result Ally severs ties with her label. Ally’s manager confronts Jackson, tells him that he is holding Ally back and Jackson in a moment of hopelessness, commits suicide. The movie’s framing tells us that this was a tragic act and that Jackson committed suicide not only with Ally in mind but for Ally. There’s no room to discuss Jackson’s mental illness or his alcoholism or his previous demons because what ultimately triggers his suicide is the accusation that he is holding Ally back.
Ally’s last words in the film are, “I’m Ally Maine”, a declaration that Ally will forever be linked to her late husband. Ally does everything she does for Jackson because she loves him, Jackson does everything he does for Ally because he wants her to love him.