A Star is Born: Bradley Cooper’s vanity project

Natalie+Busch.+Graphic+by+Ally+Rzesa+%2F+Beacon+Staff

Natalie Busch. Graphic by Ally Rzesa / Beacon Staff

By Natalie Busch

Elle chose Lady Gaga as one of its 2018 Women in Hollywood honorees last week. In her acceptance speech she said, “[Women] are not just objects to entertain the world … We have deep thoughts and ideas and beliefs and values about the world, and we have the power to speak and be heard and fight back when we are silenced.” Ironically, in the new hit film A Star is Born, Gaga’s character Ally never earns the chance to voice her deeper thoughts, ideas, or beliefs. She is silenced.

A Star is Born, a remake of the original 1937 film, follows the narrative of a successful man finding a talented yet unknown woman, falling in love with her, and turning her into a music star. In this version, Bradley Cooper, who also directed and wrote the film, plays famous country singer Jackson Maine, and Lady Gaga plays Ally Campana-Maine, the star. Although the movie earned critical acclaim and rapturous approval, the film fails to give Ally agency or autonomy.

The most troubling thing about the response to the film is the lack of criticism and the tidal wave of praise that threatens to crush any dissenting views. This film is problematic and we should talk about it. Our culture must stop validating “great men” who only care about achieving their vision and nothing else.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, expect spoilers.

The movie characterizes Jackson and Ally’s romance by Jackson’s steadfast belief in Ally’s beauty and talent in the face of her low self-esteem. It’s romantic and charming at first, but as the film continues, Ally’s desires, thoughts, and feelings are pushed aside. Jackson goes on a bender and misses one of Ally’s performances, forcing her to worry and frantically search for him. Right after she finds him, he proposes to her with a makeshift guitar string ring. In the proposal scene, she never says yes. She never says how she feels about the situation, and no one seems to care. Everyone else plans her wedding around her, and by the end of the day, she’s married.

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Ally begins her career by joining Jackson on his tour and singing country music. Eventually, she meets a record producer, signs a contract, and begins to create pop music. This disappoints Jackson, who throughout the film makes lofty speeches about the importance of having something to say and having a way to say it. To him, pop is not a worthy genre to do so. But as Ally’s career takes off, we are never afforded her feelings on the matter. There are a couple throwaway lines about it, but the film never fully explores whether she feels like she’s losing her integrity.

Later in the film, Jackson drunkenly fights with Ally and accuses her of selling her soul. He knows exactly what to say to hurt her, and he voices it. The next day he weakly apologizes, unable to even lock eyes. She forgives him but says he really hurt her, the line barely audible before transitioning to the next scene. Much of the film is about grappling with the issue of artistic integrity, but Ally never voices her opinion, defends her music, or punishes Jackson for his righteous superiority. Everything revolves around what Jackson thinks, and ultimately around what Bradley Cooper thinks. That is who this film is about.

I am always suspicious of men who write, direct, and star in their own films. When a creator controls too much of a product, the answer to who they are will always be in their work. In Cooper’s film, he positions the audience to identify with Jackson Maine, a romantic hero and a potential Jesus figure. Ally passively embodies an opposing viewpoint for Jackson to play off. She only exists to highlight Jackson’s greatness. When Ally finally becomes a star, she sings a song Jackson wrote in tribute to himself.

In a recent New York Times profile, Cooper refused to answer any personal questions. Reporter Taffy Brodesser-Akner attempts to change his mind, and Cooper replies, “I won’t have any control, and it really isn’t a collaboration … You have all the say. It’s not like you’re going to show it to me and say, ‘Let’s work on this section.’” It’s hard not to hear Cooper as a child wanting all the toys to himself.

Maybe if an empathetic creator remade the film with two women in the lead roles, and with a more collaborative filmmaking process, these issues could be countered. Or maybe we could tell a different story—one that centers and cares about someone other than a straight white man.