This article contains major spoilers for A Star Is Born
At the center of that awards season maelstrom is A Star Is Born, the fourth film version about the rise to stardom of an unknown artist (played here by Lady Gaga) after she’s discovered by an industry legend who’s struggling with alcohol and drug addiction (played by Bradley Cooper). It marks the directorial debut of Cooper, and many Oscar gurus have tapped it as the current frontrunner in a wide open race for Best Picture.
A Star Is Born has become a cultural phenomenon for a wide variety of reasons, not the least of which is because of how deeply it has affected audiences.
The power of its dramatic arc has also triggered different reactions, causing people to feel conflicted about a key turning point in the story and, more specifically, a crucial decision that is made (which leads to an outcome that, it should be noted, is crucial to the three previous versions of the film as well).
A lot of people are still trying to process exactly how they feel about this polarizing turn, what they think about it, or how they should think about it. A good friend of mine (and produced television writer) Missy Garcia is one of those people, and she wanted to talk about it.
So we did. On social media. Natch. (This happened before, two years ago with La La Land.)
That sparked a conversation involving another close friend, Kaysie Steele, who loved the film, as well as some additional final thoughts from by our friend Brian Augenstein. He left Star feeling much more ambivalent (well, very ambivalent, actually).
Below is a transcript of that conversation, tidied up a bit from its structural social media randomness.
If you, like many, have been wanting to have a similar conversation about A Star Is Born but haven’t been able to engage in one, we hope that ours can help you process whatever Cooper’s powerful drama may have provoked.
FINAL WARNING: Major plot spoilers ahead.
MISSY GARCIA: Jeff, I feel like we need to have a serious conversation about A Star Is Born. I’m pretty sure we will disagree, but I really need to hear your perspective.
I referred Missy to my written review as a starting point. You can read it here. Missy did, and then continued.
MISSY: I agree. It was a beautiful movie, and I’m so glad I stopped watching it ten minutes before it was over. I saw the handwriting on the wall when that douchey manager told Jackson that he would ruin Ally’s career. That’s the only thing I would have changed. I can see that to be true to the previous three movies Jackson had to kill himself, but I feel like the way it happened was icky and manipulative. So in my mind, they should have found a more convincing, credible way for Jackson to arrive at that tragic decision.
KAYSIE STEELE: For what it’s worth, Missy, I needed a whole therapy session to discuss the suicide that I already knew was going to be there. It slapped me upside the head because Cooper’s Jackson Maine is a very different man than the previous versions of this character; he’s a better man, even with his struggles.
JEFF HUSTON: Bingo. There was a sacrificial selflessness to Cooper’s take that elevated the character and story to richer levels.
MISSY: Jeff, that is what bothered me: The message that this kind of act is selfless. It’s not. Hollywood is trying to tell us that something so hideous (my great uncle chose this and it was not awesome for my brother who had to clean up) is romantic and the only way to be truly artistic and Oscar worthy is a sad, tragic or unfulfilled ending.
JEFF: The film’s not saying that. He’s a complex character battling his own issues, carrying a lot of baggage. Within that he makes a bad choice, mistaking it for virtue.
MISSY: Jeff, okay, I like that. But can we all agree that it was totally the manager’s fault? Jackson wasn’t headed that way after two months at the rehab center.
JEFF: Agreed, and you either bought that moment with the manager or you didn’t. I did. Some felt it kind of came out of nowhere, but I thought that character was well established and his action and comments made sense. They seemed in-character to me.
MISSY: To me it felt contrived. Pushing toward the end they needed.
KAYSIE: It didn’t feel contrived to me because I didn’t see it coming until it was happening. I guess I can look back now and feel manipulated (like I felt growing up), but honestly, I just don’t. I feel opened up and wrecked I think because Jackson was really broken and not a manipulative ass like the loved one I knew. Make sense?
JEFF: One-hundred percent.
MISSY: Kaysie, I like that, too. It’s so true how our own worldview speaks to how we experience a movie. I did love this movie, but when I saw where it was going, I just could not make myself watch the end. My soul wasn’t up for it.
JEFF: But we can all agree on her “Shallow” stage debut, right?! One of the most indelible screen moments of the year.
MISSY: TOTALLY. Incredible. And their chemistry was so so good.
JEFF:But back to our point of contention: The reason I liked the addition of that scene with the manager is because it made Jackson’s decision rooted in a deception. This actually de-romanticizes his decision, in my view, to kill himself, and added a necessary inciting action that was lacking in previous versions.
KAYSIE: Agreed. On both points. “Shallow” was stunning. I wept in that moment, too, but for entirely different reasons. She blew me away and made me want to know HER story (and I’m talking about Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta). (NOTE: that’s the real name of Lady Gaga.) And the deception left me seething in the midst of my despair. This world works so hard to destroy us, doesn’t it?
MISSY: I guess I’m still arguing with myself about it. In spite of his addiction and demons, Jackson made such strong choices because he loved her. And having been in the industry as long as he was, he should have seen right through the slimy manager. Maybe a misunderstanding from someone he trusted would have been a stronger pivot point for me. It felt too easy. I wonder how McKee felt about it. He generally doesn’t like those kinds of moments.
JEFF: Addiction clouds all kinds of reason and, when your own self esteem is that fragile, can make deceptions sound convincing.
At his point, reader Brian Augenstein entered the conversation:
BRIAN AUGENSTEIN: Love all of this dialogue. I had many of the same thoughts. Maybe it is a good movie if it can cause this type of reaction / conversation / thought-processing. I enjoyed it when I was watching it but, afterward, kept questioning it. I appreciate what you are saying Jeff, especially “The film’s not saying that. He’s a complex character battling his own issues, carrying a lot of baggage. Within that he makes a bad choice, mistaking it for virtue.” And that makes me like the film. But it does seem like the film is saying this kind of act could be love. If that is true at all, I am out.
JEFF: I believe it’s not saying that, and the inciting incident of the manager planting the seed in Jackson’s mind is proof of that.
BRIAN: Interesting. I almost thought the opposite regarding that scene. (Hard scene to watch.) Do you see it that way because whatever the manager says actually can’t be true – since he has no integrity?
JEFF: Exactly. Consider the source of the suggestion, of who made it; that says it all. It’s not truth. He’s twisting “facts.” It’s a deception.
BRIAN: Okay, I am almost convinced. Honestly, I think Bradley Cooper did a great job, both at directing and acting. Just wondered if it was a movie worth remaking…
JEFF: At some point that’s entirely subjective, of course. For me, Cooper personalized it in ways that not only made it worthwhile but, by having the previous versions as comparisons, this new one revealed an earnest, artful filmmaker that I didn’t realize was brewing to such a compelling degree.