A Star Is Born – A Tale of Two Tropes

A Star Is Born is nothing new – in fact, this is the fourth remake of the classic story of one talent on the rise as the other slowly fades away. There’s a lot to love about Bradley Cooper’s version – chiefly the brilliance of casting Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta as his love interest, Ally. Who’s that? Oh, yes – that would be Lady Gaga herself and man, is she ready for her closeup or what?

Given that the plot was already handed over on a silver platter, I feel Cooper really did put his stamp on it in a unique way. However, there are two tropes that veered from refreshing to sexist. Let me tell you how.

First, the refreshing– the fact that Jackson Maine (Cooper, who’s also the director and co-screenwriter), the sexy, established superstar, is completely, totally, and truly in love with Ally from the moment he first lays eyes on her. Sure, he’s also a full-tilt ageing drunk, but there’s no denying his charisma. And here’s what is so refreshing about his attraction to Ally:  despite being on the road (and/or totally wasted) for the majority of their relationship, he never cheats. In fact, it’s never even brought up as an option. There is no temptation, because once Ally comes into his line of vision, other women cease to exist for him. This was welcome, as it’s obviously a common assumption that rock stars are going to fool around. It was a wise choice on Cooper’s part to skip this, because honestly there wasn’t time. So much of the storyline hinges on their undying love that it would’ve really detracted from the overall vibe if Ally had had to spend time forgiving him for a physical transgression, especially when the emotional one (his all-consuming alcohol addiction) took everything they both had (and then some).

And now, the sexist– Ally, who we see at the beginning of the film performing a cabaret act in a drag bar – has never sung in a large arena, prior to meeting Jackson. And when she’s drug into his performance, it’s with a full-on country band where she immediately excels. So, it was weird to see her morph into a Britney Spears-type performer, complete with gyrating dance choreography. Why couldn’t she continue as the country singer/songwriter she was more comfortable being? It definitely felt like a double standard that Ally had to add dance moves to her repertoire when Jackson was allowed to get away with swaying and stomping to his guitar solos. (Women can, in fact, put on concerts without the booty popping. For example, Miranda Lambert doesn’t have to dance during her concerts. She saves that energy for stealing men! Heyo!) To be fair, this is Ally’s manager’s vision, not Jackson’s – but it is also Cooper’s, since he helped pen the script. It felt like a jarring departure, and I’m not sure why it played out that way. Yes, it’s a device to inadvertently drive a wedge between Jackson and Ally – but that still could’ve easily been accomplished if they’d remained in the same genre. In fact, even more so. How much more would it have resonated if she’d beat him at his own game?

Also, a random WTF note– Initially, I thought I spied a Confederate flag flying in the crowd during the opening scene of Jackson’s raucous outdoor concert. And, needless to say, I was totally in shock. As a director, I couldn’t believe Cooper would let that horrific image mar the screen. And, as a performer, I couldn’t imagine that Jackson wouldn’t stop the show and tell that person to get the fuck out, no matter how drunk and/or caught up in his own hubris he may be. (Also, what an insult to country fans. Yes, there’s a stereotype that does exist, but not everyone who enjoys that type of music is racist.)

Do I spy, with my little eye…

Happily, that is not the case– for many, many reasons! After some research, I learned that part of the concert footage was filmed at the Glastonbury Festival in England. So, what I thought was the Confederate flag is actually the Flag of the United Kingdom. (Sorry for the mistake, England!) In short, we can all breathe a sigh of relief! (Meanwhile, the Arizona flag in the scene was a plant by production for some added authenticity – in fact, none of the movie was filmed in AZ, despite numerous mentions that it’s Maine’s home state.)

There are a few flaws, and this current ASIB isn’t going to redefine the original. But it still shines brightly and is definitely worth a trip to the cinema… and, perhaps, the Oscars.

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