A Star is Born and Hollywood’s coercive ‘romance’


I’D heard great things about A Star is Born, the new film starring Bradley Cooper as a rock star and Lady Gaga as a waitress-slash-singer-songwriter in need of a big break. “Outrageously watchable and colossally enjoyable,” said The Guardian. “A remarkable feat of both performance and filmmaking” said Empire magazine. Five stars all round.

The film in 135 minutes long. I lasted 55 minutes. I walked out at the point where Ally (Gaga) wakes up in her bedroom to find that her father has granted Jackson (Cooper), an unstable man she’s known for a matter of days, unrestricted access to their home while declining to rouse his daughter, let alone inform her of a visitor’s arrival.

Of course, when Jackson touches her face Ally doesn’t flinch, or scream, or scrabble to compose herself (despite the character having been established as chronically insecure about her appearance, no thanks to her horrible dad). She is delighted.

How on earth did this script get signed off, let alone the film get made and then released with great fanfare worldwide?

I know this is a remake. I don’t know how closely it resembles the previous film. But this is 2018. Why the hell, post-Weinstein, is male entitlement, coercion and pushing at boundaries still being dressed up by Hollywood as “romance”? How on earth did this script get signed off, let alone the film get made and then released with great fanfare worldwide?

Are there no new stories to tell? Are there no stories about women who aren’t trophies, or ego-boosting projects, or prey to be pursued by men? Are there no stories about relationships that don’t involve large age gaps and massive power imbalances?

At the start of the film the two protagonists meet when Jackson stumbles into the bar where Ally is about to deliver a storming performance of La Vie En Rose. He’s taken backstage and the two chat a little – she’s nervous but flattered, he’s drunk and inappropriate. He asks if he can peel off one of the false eyebrows she has stuck to her face. Perhaps we’re supposed to imagine this is the moment of intimacy she’s been dreaming of all her life, but I suspect not. She allows him to do it, then covers her face with embarrassment. Later, when she explains that she’s self-conscious about her nose, she allows him to touch that too. His “thing” is established: pushing against her personal boundaries. Getting her to do things she’s not comfortable with.

He’s an entitled, powerful man and he always gets what he wants

Jackson can do what he likes, because he’s famous. He’s an entitled, powerful man and he always gets what he wants. Nowhere is this expressed in a more sinister fashion than when, the day after their all-night-but-chaste first encounter, he sends his driver to sit outside Ally’s home until she agrees to get on a plane to come and watch him in concert.

“No” doesn’t mean “no” – it means “apply more pressure”.

Of course, this is a well-established romance-film trope, from Ryan Gosling’s ferris-wheel suicide threat in The Notebook to Heath Ledger’s mortifying marching-band declaration of love in 10 Things I Hate About You with all sorts of other pressure in between. The subtext is always the same: she wants it, she’s just playing hard to get, so you just need to try harder. But at least the aforementioned gestures involve the subjective factor of the pursuing man’s personal charm. “Wooing” by assigning an employee to stake out the woman’s home feels like it belongs in a different category altogether.

Complying with Jackson’s demand means quitting her job, but we’re treated to scenes showing Ally and her friend on a private jet, then standing at the stage of the stage wearing their all-access lanyards, so presumably it’s all worth it.

The message is clear: this older, more powerful man knows what is best for the young ingenue

During their encounter the previous night Ally sang a self-penned song for Jackson, so in a move as implausible as it is unethical he decides to perform a swiftly prepared arrangement of it on stage and coerce her into joining him for a duet. She has not consented to her material being performed and is ambushed into joining the performance but, of course, it is a triumph and becomes a viral hit. The message is clear: this older, more powerful man knows what is best for the young ingenue, so her consent is irrelevant. It doesn’t even matter if she’s not awake when something starts, because it’s guaranteed she’d be loving it when she wakes up.

I couldn’t stomach any more once the dad teamed with Jackson – in thrall to celebrity and, one assumes, happily surprised by any man taking an interest in the daughter he describes as ugly to anyone who will listen.

Feel free to fill me in on what happens in the rest of this grubby, shitty, soul-destroying Exhibit A of why Hollywood needs to completely rethink its definition of “romance”.

Published by Shona Craven

Writer, editor, talking head

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