Going into A Star Is Born having seen the ways alcoholism can physically and mentally diminish someone you love. I knew I was seeing the movie from a different perspective than those simply there for Bradley Cooper’s hunkiness and award winning soundtrack. This manifested in the movie’s early reviews as critics and audiences questioned whether the film romanticized the reality of those living with addiction through cute dogs, rock n’ roll lifestyles, and a pretty face. It was obvious—those with experience and/or exposure to alcoholism (and other forms of addiction) saw gaps and oversimplifications in the story.
A working-class “nobody” girl with immeasurable potential falls in love with an ever powerful, wealthy, and troubled man— this story is not new. Hollywood has been profiting off this story as far back as its history goes. The movie’s initial appeal comes from the man’s ability to save the damsel in distress. However, the true enticement comes when the audience learns the hero of the story is the one that needs saving. The hero becomes the victim and the victim becomes the hero. It has proved exhaustive and predictable within the movie industry. Cooper uses this classic romance model in A Star Is Born by incorporating fame, addiction, and captivating musical touches. The question becomes, does A Star Is Born fall with the love stories before it? Or has Cooper managed to successfully capture the ugly, beautiful reality of love and addiction?
It was easy to succumb to my preconceived notions of A Star Is Born when Bradley Cooper was the face of alcoholism. I thought to myself—This movie is dressed up in cowboy boots, doused in a charming southern accent, and cushioned with a monetary freedom so you [audience members] can handle it; enjoy it* rather. It’s wrapped in a pretty package for your sake. The addiction movie made for the non-addicts. I heard positive reviews from lots of people and wanted to like it, but it was hard to get myself past the hurdle of having a family history and knowing it didn’t look and sound as pretty as Bradley Cooper. Pair that with Lady Gaga and a golden retriever puppy? That’s it. It’s hard for anyone to deny the attraction, and I wish I could say I didn’t give in.
The movie isn’t perfect. There is certainly lots of romanticizing done to complex, messy issues, and it often distracts us from it with more light-hearted, digestible moments of humor. But what movie doesn’t? This proves less important than Cooper’s willingness to take on such a considerable topic — one I would argue, impossible to “successfully” capture. Every addicts story is different: disguised with smiles or tears or families or fame. Some find the romantic love Jackson does, some don’t, and some annihilate it the same way the disease annihilates them. Some are success stories, some aren’t. The truth is (or rather my own truth is), A Star Is Born was bound to fail. Not fail in the way it doesn’t entertain or captivate me— that it did. But fail in the way capturing alcoholism isn’t possible. It’s slippery; addiction isn’t perfect. It makes sense that A Star Is Born isn’t either. The movie is successful in its own attempt to capture it.
I, without thought, would recommend this movie to everyone—but with one hope. As I look through images of the movie online, Jackson Maine is a rock star. He isn’t an addict. The internet favors the pretty side of the movie and his addiction the same way most depictions of the disease do in real life. It’s easier to shove the ugly into a grave, cover it with dirt, and top it with daisies than it is to see it as it is. But those living with the disease can’t ignore it as easily as we can, and for that. I hope you leave A Star Is Born not thinking about the sad dog in front of the garage door or the heartfelt contribution performance by his wife, but you think about addiction.
Let’s stop telling men they need to be heroes.