2018’s “A Star is Born” hits some pitch perfect notes. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s chemistry, the robust sounds of their voices, and the tragic truth of stardom are all especially captivating. The film, by Bradley Cooper, bears out the metaphor of stardom beautifully. In order to shine brightest, stars are often eclipsing one another, and in the world of celebrities, paying for it with their very lives. Falling stars are at their most recognizable when they’re descending. There is nowhere to hide. Where “LALA Land” sang wistfully of the “City of Stars,” in “A Star is Born,” this song becomes a lament.
As with stars, we all have an expiry date, and Cooper’s character Jackson Maine’s edict to Gaga’s Ally rings truest and most important of all: We’re all here to launch the message within us. It’s our raison d’etre. We can borrow another’s message, but it will never ring as true unless we assign our own interpretation. We can let others mold and fashion our message to their liking, and we will lose the essence of who we are, we will trade our truth for an advertisement, a glossy, photoshopped billboard.
The irony of “A Star is Born” is that it is itself a recycled work. It’s message is to be thine own self be true, and yet it is based on a prewritten message, repurposed for the new millennium. There are brief but potent nods to starlets like “Dirty Dancing’s” Baby, “Pretty Woman’s” Vivian , “Splash’s” Madison — all female characters whose ascendancy is inextricably linked to a romantic male character, their North Star of sorts.
It also employs a couple of Hollywood tropes that surprised me in their transparency. Dave Chapelle is an obvious Magical Negro who exists, it would seem, merely to rescue Cooper from his sunken place and remind him with wisdom and wit, that he should dock his boat in a safe harbor. The hackneyed mystical person of color who speaks words of life into the wayward white person made me roll my eyes a bit, even if I did love seeing Chapelle.
The damsel in distress trope is also undeniable. Gaga’s Ally possesses a sound mind and creative talent, but she is always thanking men for allowing her the opportunity, looking to men to validate her decisions, waiting for men to bless her words and deem her worthy. Spoiler ahead: I don’t recall anyone asking her to marry him. Even when the producer Rez Gavron asks her what she wants, presumably out of the business, she says, “I have to ask Jack!” This may well be the film’s own critique of Hollywood, a place where women must still ask for permission to succeed even if we are finally beginning to demand an end to the forces that hinder our access or snuff out our light altogether.
I hope to share “A Star is Born” with my daughter someday. But I will do so gingerly, asking her what she thinks of what it takes to be a woman with a message and a microphone, and what costs she is willing to pay to share them with a world that too often wants to silence her.