A Star Is Born has been remade for the fourth time and was released in Irish cinemas on 5 October.
The retelling follows the familiar story of an aging male star—this time the country singer Jackson Maine (played by Bradley Cooper)—who happens across an ordinary woman whose talent is being overlooked, Ally (played by Lady Gaga). This meeting is swiftly followed by her rise to fame as his is in decline. The title implies that the story will focus on the rising female star, but, like much in the film, it rings false.
As a romantic modern musical the film is predicable, heavy-handed, and tropey. All of which is expected and forgivable if it weren’t for the awful writing of the only woman present on screen for more than thirty seconds.
Jackson, the rugged, booze-soaked country singer, is the baby-boomer generation on screen. He pulled himself up by his own bootstraps (even with the weight of a tragic backstory), and the only thing required for his success was his own home-grown talent.
When Ally points out the sexist beauty standards in the music industry, Jackson shuts down her objections with a call to “have something to say and you’ll make it.” Jackson uses this line several times to explain away other people’s failures and his own success.
The film perfectly—and, one would guess, unknowingly—highlights the contradiction in capitalism’s exhortation that anyone can be a success with enough hard work with the fact that Ally only “makes it” because of Jackson and not on her own merit at all. Self-awareness is entirely absent from this film.
The men in the film try to address their own internalised standards of masculinity, with varying degrees of success. They have emotional moments in which they try to repair bonds broken in haste and make up for the past. They worry about their careers, fading talent and fame as they try to understand and come to terms with the changing priorities in their lives. They are complete people, and their struggle to express themselves is intended as heartfelt and, even with their failings, to endear them to us. After all, they are battling against toxic masculinity itself.
Perhaps in other circumstances it wouldn’t feel so contrived. When held up against the incredibly shallow and two-dimensional portrayal of women, it shows off the laziness of the script.
When we are first introduced to Ally there is the false promise of depth in her Everywoman character. She carries a quiet seething with her as she cleans her father’s house, refuses a proposal, goes to work, or punches a cop. She is unhappy with her lot in life and the limitations placed on her by society and her family. This fury only leaves her when she is performing. After Jackson drunkenly whisks her away we never really see this side of her again.
Every moment where Ally could become that interesting character within whom self-confidence and self-doubt battle it out is quietly pasted over by her being told, again, that she looks great. One particular scene has her lying in a bath, refusing to attend her album launch party: “I don’t know who I am. Is this what I want? What was I thinking?” She could be having an existential crisis, brought about by her sudden fame, independent of Jackson.
Her manager and Jackson discuss her appearance outside the room. It’s casually cruel. The men who profess to love and care for her also reduce her to her appearance, the marketability, the desirability of her. She is objectified even by her best friend, who sweeps into the bathroom to tell her she looks like a star. Her face lights up. Ally is restored. She is definitely pretty. What a relief!
Such is the pattern. When her talent and contribution to music are slated and undermined she barely registers them; the critiques almost have validity. Once her looks are called into question, however, Ally rises, raging, from the bath for a brief shot of full-body nudity, proving she is anything but that most dreaded word: ugly.
If Jackson is the baby-boomer, Ally is the baby-boomer’s view of a millennial. One is capable of depth, nuance, and art; the other, with the inherent flaws of vanity and shallowness, can only hope to mirror it.
The only enjoyable part of this film is the constant homages and references to Édith Piaf, some carried off with a frankly surprising subtlety; but they aren’t reason enough to pay for a ticket. A Star Is Born is a guaranteed box office success and tipped to win at least one Oscar. It’s ironic that, with its very well-funded and powerful voice, it has absolutely nothing to say.