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Why This Queer Man Hates A Star Is Born

Why This Queer Man Hates A Star Is Born

'A Star Is Born' Has a Sickening Message About Mental Health

Is A Star Is Born a timeless love story, or a disturbing romanticization of addiction and codependency?

Spoilers ahead.

There's a scene in A Star Is Born when up-and-coming pop artist Ally (Lady Gaga) -- sans any last name until she marries addict and country music star Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) -- visits Jack shortly before his time at rehabilitation has ended. Ally asks him if he'll be coming home after his 28 days; as anyone can tell you, a lot can change in 28 days of rehab. Jack responds by erupting with incredulous shock and anger. He then has a teary breakdown, unable to comprehend why she would ask such a question.

Jack asks her, rhetorically, why she believes that he is there. "I'm here for you," he says, forcing her (not for the first time) into emotional submission. Ally can't stop apologizing for inciting even a hint of doubt in their relationship. She reasons that now that he was sober and possibly thinking straight, he'd see how ugly she is (which is all in her head) and that he wouldn't want to be with her. After all, they met when he was drunk, after he stumbled into a gay bar in his mindless search for more alcohol. It's a pretty typical example of codependent sparring presented as hopelessly romantic -- not as a manipulative emotional extortion. How does not being drunk change things?

The answer is, nothing's changed. because he hasn't truly dealt with his problem. Throughout A Star Is Born, Jack never has an opportunity to deal with his addiction to drugs or alcohol, nor does the film ever really try to explore its causes. The film also fails to explore why Ally feels like she needs to continue to be chained to this wrecking ball of a man, who raises his partner up only to humiliate her in front of the world.

When I stepped into the theater to see A Star Is Born, I didn't think I would leave feeling like I just watched a black hole tear apart all the matter around it and suck it into a self-destructive void of depression and addiction. Granted, I've seen the '70s version. I was prepared for the whirlwind of this tragic love story. But what is the point of remaking a film if you don't bring it up to date?

Yes, the new Star Is Born, directed by Cooper, was skinned with our modern fashions and pop sounds. But as a society, we've come so far in our conversations about mental health and gender politics. None of that is reflected in this movie. It's the same dramatic trappings of a tragic codependent romance that we've seen countless times before. In fact, I would call it regressive in its storytelling and damaging to modern audiences in its portrayal of mental health issues.

Codependency is a complicated issue and it deserves a film that treats it as such -- not a film that treats it as a norm. A Star is Born never felt like a cautionary tale. Ally is in complete service to this fragile and broken white man whose ego is the real "star" of this film. She is stripped of any agency as a character, because she can't step outside of the downward spiral for a moment to even think about what's best for her. She continues the dance of codependency and self-denial until, finally, he kills himself. The film depicts this suicide as a sacrificial martyrdom that attempts to absolve him from his mistakes and grant her the freedom to step into her stardom. Lucky her.

In fact, Ally is in service to all the men in the film. She dotes on her father and his buddies and conforms to the demands of her music manager; all of these men, Jack included, use her essence and negate her ability to be an authentic star in her own right.

Can "a star not be born" without the assistance and sacrifices from the white men in power around her? Are we really going to stand by and ignore the fact that the ever problematic "magical black man" trope rears its head through Dave Chapelle's sage-like character, who not only peels Jack off the sidewalk after a bender but whose only purpose is to help the white man see the errors of his ways? And let's not forget the underutilized and useless Greek choir of drag queens introduced only to "inclusion check" and to provide a few campy laughs.

I realize, yes, that's the tale they are here to tell. It's a remake, after all. But this is the fourth version of this story. In a day when gender politics, mental health, and addiction are such topical everyday conversations, why couldn't this film take a more evolved approach? If they really wanted to update it for today's audiences, why couldn't it have taken on a more responsible viewpoint on these subject matters? It feels like a disservice to audiences to glorify these kinds of all-or-nothing hyperbolic lovesick tropes.

When you have two massive stars like Gaga and Cooper come together on a project like this, you'd hope the integrity of the storytelling could be more intentional and careful with such delicate topics. But the masses have flocked to it and are of course mesmerized by the chemistry, fine acting, lovely music, and the incredible cinematography (Matthew Libatique, I love you, you are one of the greats). Fans are starstruck in the worst possible way, since they (unfortunately) are not chipping away hard enough at the surface to see how problematic and detrimental this kind of storytelling can be.

CHRISTOPHER HANCOCK is a Los Angeles-based producer. Follow him on Instagram @littleursaminor.

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