This is the fourth remake of A Star is Born, telling the story of an unsuccessful female artist being helped to fame by a successful male artist and subsequent lover, which came to cinemas and to everyone’s attention a month ago. It is both Bradley Cooper’s debut as a director and Lady Gaga’s debut as a film actor yet neither disappoint expectations about their artistic abilities. Surprisingly it has managed to achieve both commercial and critical success, with a lot of talk of it winning awards next year, which cannot solely be attributed to its captivating trailer, the famous stars involved and brilliant soundtrack.
The plot of A Star is Born is rather predictable and feels like it has been seen and told before, not just in its predecessors. However it manages to eclipse this factor by the outstanding acting of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, their undeniable chemistry and its exceptional script. But for me, its biggest feat was not the supposed romance between the two protagonists or its emphasis on the power of an artist’s message, which Cooper and Gaga mainly talk about in interviews about the film, but its subtle exposure of the shortcomings and unfortunate byproducts of fame, highlighted particularly through Cooper’s characterisation of the lovable yet easily dislikeable Jackson Maine.
We meet Jackson Maine singing onstage and then ferried straight into a car to be taken to his next tour destination upon which he starts drinking alone in the back seat. Although the film shows the satisfaction and wonderful achievement of getting success in the music industry through Ally’s character, on the other side of that through Jackson’s character it highlights the shallow and somewhat empty nature of fame. This is echoed in the film’s most famous song “Shallow”, as the audience sees Cooper’s character fuelled by alcohol and drugs to make his lifestyle bearable. Maine claims that he is able to counter the hollowness of fame by the authenticity that he brings to his work — something which becomes clear that he thinks that Ally’s work is lacking. The film seemed to be issuing a statement and warning about the fact that the nature of fame has come to attract destructive counterparts in drugs and alcohol, yet this has become perceived as a normality by all, as the notorious ‘27 club’ sadly continues to grow in its members. However this disturbing routine of extraordinarily talented people wasting away due to drug addiction and alcoholism is one which destroys careers, mental health and lives.
Another disturbing aspect of the film is that no one, including Ally herself, shows any indication (aside from his brother briefly) that they are going to tell Jackson to stop drinking or taking drugs, until they have to after he humiliates both himself and Ally when she goes up to receive her first Grammy. Whether those surrounding him do not try to prevent him out of fear or because they see it as a normal characteristic of a musician, both are equally upsetting and render devastating impacts on his incredible talent, career and indeed on Jackson himself. In fact there are very few scenes in the film before he goes to rehab where he is not drunk or high. This makes him not only seem untrustworthy but his real self seems completely intangible and unreachable to the audience to the extent that the character Jackson Maine appears to be somewhat of an enigma for the audience. A factor which seems, to me, to be particularly resonant with modern day celebrities.
Some way through the film Maine jokingly reveals his failed suicide attempt at a young age to a friend, partially due to his alcoholic father, who Maine appears to be following in the footsteps of. It becomes clear that his character’s embodiment of conventional masculinity, his alcoholism and drug addiction are all concealing a myriad of mental health problems that, like his addictions, Maine refuses to confront. To the audience Maine appears to have grown up and be surrounded with an atmosphere of toxic masculinity which encourages emotions to be suppressed or drowned in alcohol. The first time that the audience see a version of Jackson Maine that openly exerts any convincing and raw vulnerability is in his breakdown to Ally after he has come out of rehab. The film demonstrated the sad truth that masculinity and vulnerability still are not considered to coincide, with awful results. Furthermore, the fleeting nature of fame and the music industry in throwing away someone and making them feel useless as it does with Jackson, along with alcoholism and the lack of acknowledgement of his mental health problems all eventually culminate in his suicide.
To me this film was a powerful and poignant warning that if the destructive nature of fame, the lax attitude to drink and drugs and the separation of masculinity and mental health are allowed to sustain there will continue to be many more Jackson Maines.