Originally, I called this post “A grudge is born.” The title has evolved since then, as you can see, and now refers to my favorite activity: No, not holding a grudge - Reviewing. I can spend hours, even months, just reviewing a few moments in time. (Hence, blog.)
Why the initial grudge? When I first saw this movie, I didn’t like it.
I would tell you why, but that would be a spoiler.
Ok, fine, I’ll tell you why. Spoiler alert. A Star is Born is a remake, so this is nothing the first two versions didn’t already spoil, anyway.
In fact, I wish someone had spoiled it for me. I walked into that movie expecting to see something lighthearted. I was prepared to see Lady Gaga pay a tribute to, um, Lady Gaga. I wasn’t prepared for one of the two leads, Jackson Mane (played by Bradley Cooper) to take his own life. By the time that happened, I felt so felt too distracted - ok, betrayed - by the unexpected messaging around suicide to be impressed by much else.
I use the word “unexpected” pretty loosely. Everyone besides me seems to have predicted that Jack kills himself. But here’s the problem: as it’s written, Jack’s suicide seemed to be the the direct result of someone insulting him. Ally’s agent tells Jack (who has presumably been sober for a couple of months) that it’s “only a matter of time” before he drinks again. “And when that happens, I don’t want Ally anywhere near you.”
Bam: Jack promptly kills himself.
The movie could have done without this particular sequence. Suicide is rarely, if ever, the result of something that someone said to an otherwise well-functioning person. And although A Star is Born is explicit about the fact that Jack is not functioning well, it is also explicit that his suicide follows from his conversation with Ally’s manager during a period when things are otherwise looking up for him (i.e., he’s sober). After watching that scene, I worried for the people who feel guilty, or even responsible, for the suicides of people they knew and loved. It is never something you said.
But it’s only a brief stint on the high horse today, folks. I’m giving this pony the day off. Because A Star is Born was pretty good.
And other than the suicide narrative, it was pretty accurate, too. The tabloids (yes, I mean Google) suggest that Cooper is in recovery himself. Given that he not only starred in A Star is Born, but produced, directed, and co-wrote it, it’s no wonder the movie got addiction right.
Or at least - one version of addiction. It believably depicts one instance of alcoholism. Certainly alcoholism is common among performers and artists (like Jack), probably due both to temperament and environment. But most alcoholics don’t attend the Grammys. Most alcoholics don’t pee their pants. And incredibly few have the opportunity to pee their pants at the Grammys. (I, for one, would almost certainly be wearing a dress.)
Here’s what did hit close to home: A Star is Born is right on the money in how it portrays falling in love drunk.
Jack first meets Ally when he’s drunk. For alcoholics - at least, for me - everyone was shinier when I was drinking. If we met when I was drinking, I couldn’t unsee the shiny, glowy person (or was it just the feeling) that I perceived after a few drinks. I once got very drunk at a cocktail bar on a first date, and the next day was already wildly anxious that he wouldn’t text me. But here’s the thing: I didn’t even know if I liked him. I knew I liked cocktails.
This fact is not inconsequential for the other person. When Ally visits Jackson in rehab, she wonders if Jackson was in love with her or alcohol. “I wondered without the booze if you would want to come home,” she says. “Because then you were drinking, and now you’re not.”
If Jack has a heart, a statement like this ought to break it. In having failed time after time to be fully conscious for Ally, he has disrespected her whole person. He is taken aback by her question, but I had the sense that his response was more to keep his own guilt at bay than to contradict her: “Well, I wasn’t drinking the whole time we were together.”
I occasionally look back and wonder about the people I dated, either casually or more seriously, while I was drinking. The feeling I have is similar to my regret for having given alcohol priority in friendships: Damn. You deserved to be seen, and I didn’t fully do that.
From my perspective, one of the primary purposes of romantic relationships is to see and be seen by another human. For me, this is only possible if I am sober. If one or both members of a relationship is a practicing alcoholic, I don’t think the process of seeing a person - at once humanistic and deeply spiritual - can really occur.
Is that the point of the movie? Is that where A Star is Born was leading us? Probably not. But remarkably, I was able to watch this movie in its entirety - twice. That’s a length of time I typically reserve for just thinking about myself.
So it’s no surprise, I guess, that I made the movie about me, too. But maybe that’s what makes a A Star is Born any good: it tapped into a moment, both cultural and deeply personal, that was ready for a little spotlight.