Who would have guessed that A Star Is Born (2018), remade for a third time, would connect with audiences today. Not that the story isn’t classic Hollywood “weepy” gold or that the queer fandom of the earlier films couldn’t find something to enjoy in another remake. What is startling is that, in its opening weekend, A Star Is Born has reportedly grossed over 43 million dollars.
This is largely due, I assume, to the films two leads; Lady Gaga (in her film debut) and Bradley Cooper (making his directorial debut). As far as debuts go A Star Is Born isn’t as bad as it could have been or as good as it might have been. That said, the most redeeming quality of this remake has to be Lady Gaga; she is full of life in every frame, stealing the show as naturally talented “non-actors” often do. This may even be the best performance by an untrained lead actor I have seen since Katie Jarvis in Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank (2009). The issue is that Cooper, in both the narrative and montage of the film, privileges his own character Jackson Maine over Gaga’s Ally.
This is a strange choice for 2018 considering what audiences need right now in the wake of the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh. It certainly isn’t the kind of “white boy pity party” films that A Star Is Born turns out to be. The film relegates Ally to the background of Jackson Maine’s narrative, aligning the film within the tradition of patriarchal affirming Oscar bait. Cooper gives himself a good many more close-ups than Gaga, and the film prefers to explore the relationship between Jackson and his brother (Sam Elliott) in much more detail than the similar relationship between Ally and her father (Andrew Dice Clay). Bradley Cooper’s performance of Jackson Maine is an equally bizarre choice; he seems to be imitating Kris Kristofferson the entire time.
Then there is the issue of the music itself within the complex of the narrative. Clearly viewers are supposed to associate positively with the Alt-Country/Rock sounds of Jackson Maine and negatively with the Pop aesthetic of Ally once she becomes a superstar in her own right. This division of musical aesthetics conforms to a Baby Boomer ideology concerning masculinity and its “appropriate” tastes (rock is for men, pop is for girls). So the fact that Ally’s music is a far cry from Pop when she is performing with Jackson implies that, without his tutelage, her music becomes either insincere or immature.
If Bradley Cooper respected Ally as a character, or simply found her interesting, A Star Is Born would be a much different experience. Instead what we are left with is another heteronormative, pro-patriarchal remake of a remake of a remake.