A Star Is Born: Maybe It's Time to Let the Old [Maps] Die
This post contains mostly no spoilers, unless you consider *general geography* a spoiler which, fine, but we all took third and seventh grade...
|Jodi Walker||Oct 19, 2018|
HAAAAaaahhhhOOOOHHhhhaaaaAAAHHHOhaaaHAAA-IIIIIIII have now seen A Star Is Born and I am here to confirm what you already know: the hype is real. Come for the melodrama; stay for Lady Gaga's incredible face that Bradley Cooper's camera simply cannot stay away from — except for all the times when he puts the camera on his own face, which is also incredible in all its bronzed, gin-sweat glory, and also an inspiring muse, even if you didn't know Bradley Cooper was the star you were coming to see Bradley Cooper birth.
I do not mean to undermine Lady Gaga's performance. She's...so good. And in such an unexpected way, as perfectly showcased when Ally first sings "Shallow" onstage, and you're sitting there thinking that song has already been normalized for you because of its iconic rollout in the trailer, but halfway through trying to wipe the butter off your hands so that you can wipe the tears off your face, you realize what's most iconic of all is the fear and vulnerability with which Lady Gaga is able to color Ally's first time singing in front of an arena, even though Lady Gaga herself has straight up body-surfed at the Super Bowl halftime show, like, six times.
Ally is definitely the star that is born in the first act, but then in the second act, she's just kind of…a self-assured toddler who is already very comfortable being a star? That's when the focus turns to Jackson Maine, who is very uncomfortable with his life as a star, or at least needs to snort a large caterpillar's worth of cocaine to get comfortable with it.
And that works too, I guess! Cooper’s is excellently crafted man pain, and I've heard it has made more than a few men cry many man tears. I myself cried enough man tears that I felt very relieved I hadn't worn makeup, and upon entering the restroom, realized while I had not intentionally worn makeup, I had done a real half-ass job of taking off some former makeup, as evidenced by my eyes looking like Jackson Maine's after he's drunk enough whiskey to forget the death of A R T.
Oh yes, I did cry enough in those two final scenes — you know the ones — to activate some three-day old, already once removed LashBlast. Wait...am I the star that was born?
No. No, I am not. But which star this movie births is just one of its many conundrums (others have said the star is Gail, and once you know who Gail is, you know they might just be right).
The absolute best thing about A Star Is Born is how self-assured it is. In fact, Cooper’s directorial confidence that what's happening is the exact right thing to be happening… and does not need to be explained or made sense of…even when it is completely illogical, is perhaps the only thing that keeps the wheels from coming off in A Star Is Born. Like me telling anyone who tries to make me eat breakfast the unchecked fact I heard one single time three years ago that breakfast being the most important meal of the day was a marketing tactic made up by General Mills in the 1970s to sell cereal — unearned confidence will get you everywhere.
And by everywhere, I mean: your loved ones off of your back about not eating breakfast, and/or $50 million opening weekend domestic.
I don't think it would be a contrarian take, even for the film's biggest advocates, to say that almost everything about this film is technically "good" while not technically “making any sense at all." For example, why would a bunch of people who paid for a Jackson Maine concert be thrilled when he brings a lady in a t-shirt onstage to sing the encore, even if "Shallow" is a baaaaahooooohaaaahooohanger? Who cares, it gives us that incredible moment!
Further, was it...necessary to make Jackson Maine's brother a full 30 years older than him? Which came first: Sam Elliot's casting or Bradley Cooper's Sam Elliot impression? I love Sam Elliot as much as the next Bradley Cooper, but what are we doing here and why are we doing it? The answer is, of course: “Sam Elliot” and “because we can,” respectively.
Does it matter that Bradley Cooper is completely believable as in irreparable drunk with a heart of gold right up until the point when he takes his shirt off and your tongue rolls out of your mouth like a Sylvester the cat because these are not the abs of a man who hosts a DIY gin bucket in his torso every night? You can grease down his hair, sprinkle cigarette ash down his throat, and put as much Tom Ford bronzer on him as you want, but you cannot hide those abs.
Well, you could — with a shirt. A Star Is Born simply chooses not to because it knows you can live in two worlds: one where you enjoy Bradley Cooper's grizzled performance as Jackson Maine, one one where you enjoy Bradley Cooper's abs as Bradley Cooper's abs. Because this is a tried and true melodrama. We're not here for the Pythagorean theorem, we're here for: Hair. Body. Face.
We could call into question if A Star Is Born actually doesn't realize it's shitting on pop music while featuring one of the greatest virtuoso pop stars of our time, or if it's doing the much trickier thing of shitting on people who shit on pop music by making Jackson Maine such a (sympathetic) asshole that he drinks a whole bottle of backstage-SNL liquor just because Ally sings a (good) song about butts, sure…
But that's hard work. And melodramas shouldn't be mentally laborious for the audience — you come; you cry; you leave; you throw your wig at Lady Gaga slinging non-stop bops (even the ones that aren’t supposed to bop) if you feel so inclined because you had a good ass time.
There are plenty of things that don't make logical sense in A Star Is Born, but for the most part, it is so big and yet small, bold and yet subtle, emotionally manipulative and yet earnest, that you just move past the fact that sometimes Jackson Maine's brother accuses Jackson of stealing his voice even though we are at no point given any evidence that his brother was a singer of any kind. There was only one logical fallacy actually took me outside of the film while watching it:
WHERE IN THE FRESH MONTERREY HELL DO ANY OF THESE PEOPLE LIVE?
For the first, I don't know, 45 minutes of this movie, there was no doubt in my mind that Ally lived in New York. Yes, I am a pretentious east coast nightmare who assumes that everything worthwhile happens in New York, but also...Lady Gaga has a Queens accent…her dad has a Queens accent…and all of her dad's friends who hang out at their house that is very clearly in Queens have Queens accents???
Long Island would not have knocked me over with a feather. I would have even been willing to consider New Jersey. But that Ally and her father did not live a bridge or tunnel away from the Empire State Buildings was inconceivable.
Until Jackson Maine comes to Ally's house and asks if she wants to go on a motorcycle ride TO ARIZONA...
Apparently Ally actually lives within an interstate or highway (or eight, I clearly do no know how L.A. works) of the HOLLYWOOD sign??? Which begs the question: if Ally lives in L.A., why does Jackson fly her on a private jet to a concert that takes place at what is quite notably the Greek Theatre in L.A.? And further, if we're just taking private jets across cities, and motorcycles across states (or maybe countries, I’m honestly still not sure!!!), and treating the space time continuum like a recalled Stretch Armstrong, then why can't Jackson fly Ally's dad from (allegedly!!!) L.A. to Memphis for their wedding???
Also, if Dave Chapelle lives in Memphis, where are he and Jackson childhood friends from? Arizona?? Was there some unaccounted for time in Nashville because Jackson's brother who (allegedly!!!) wanted to be a country star raised him? Does this movie think audiences just don't listen to state names??? Everyone learned a whole ass song about them in elementary school! We could sing them to you in alphabetical order, Bradley Cooper!!!
Alas, I got over it. The best thing about A Star Is Born is that it is a simple love story, told over and over. At its core, it really isn't a movie about the trials of fame, or the death of A R T or even the tragedy of substance abuse. It definitely is not a movie about the responsible narrative use of place and setting.
It's just a movie about two people doomed to fall in love, and the audience, doomed to fall further under the spell of a movie star who might also be an auteur, playing a country star; and a pop star who might also be a movie star, playing a ingenue. (And it all happened right here IN NEW YORK CITY!)