I can’t remember a recent movie that got an ad campaign like A Star is Born. When you go to a movie, the trailers tend to be targeted, although we can debate about the usefulness of the categories. For the last six months, I’ve seen “all the family drama trailers”, “all the black trailers”, “all the suspense trailers plus all the minority trailers”, “all the trailers we think middle aged women will like”, “all the comedies,” and various combinations thereof.
But EVERY SINGLE MOVIE showed the trailer for A Star is Born. I assume every movie in America showed the trailer for A Star is Born. I have no idea what that kind of ad campaign costs but it can’t be cheap!
At first the BFF and I laughed. “Who is going to see a Star is Born remake in the year of our lord 2018?” we asked each other.
Gradually, we realized the answer was—us. We were going to see the A Star is Born remake.
Mostly, it was curiosity. The trailer gave very little indication of what kind of movie this was, or even what the plot was. It seemed to show only the early part of the characters’ relationship even though we knew the core of the movie was that she becomes a bigger star than him and he can’t handle it. Partly, it was a love of musicals and Jason Isbell. Partly, it was that Lady Gaga is a total babe with an amazing voice. (When Bradley Cooper touched her nose, I murmured breathlessly, “Living the dream…”)
Secretly, I think I was hoping for a train wreck. I wanted the movie to flop and for Bradley Cooper to have to go bankrupt, and I wanted front row seats for the disaster. (Yes, I know this is gross, but here we are. I don’t even remember why I don’t like Bradley Cooper! I think there was a reason? I do remember several things Lady Gaga has done that annoyed me which is why I haven’t listened to any of her albums since, uh….Monster? Was that the second one? But she’s also much more talented than he is.)
But also, secretly, I was hoping for a great movie with great songs, that would capture the struggles of successful women surrounded by fragile male egos.
In the end, I’m not entirely sure what I got. It wasn’t bad, exactly. I just…don’t know what it was.
Here are my suggestions to improve the A Star Is Born script.
WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS.
1. For a movie that talked so much about the importance of having something to say, I found it very difficult to pin down what it was saying, if anything.
I don’t mean that a story has to have a moral, but it does need a structure other than “First this happened, then that happened.” To provide a satisfying resolution (whether positive or negative), there must be something to resolve. What is at stake? What are the characters striving for?
Here are several possible themes/arcs already embedded in the material:
- Fame makes it difficult to retain a clear sense of self and magnifies ordinary relationship struggles by placing them in the public eye.
- The music business will chew you up and spit you back out.
- To be a star, you need confidence. Women are less likely to have that confidence, so they end up in a Catch-22 of needing men to bolster their self-esteem, when those same men are threatened by their success and will sabotage their self-esteem.
- It’s problematic to mix business and personal relationships.
- The entertainment industry is ageist.
- Relationships are complicated and cannot be defined as “good” or “bad”.
- Performers put the rush of connecting with a crowd ahead of their personal life, but in the end the real, two-way, difficult connections with the people in their life are vital to sustaining and nourishing genuine happiness and creativity.
- Ally has a powerful songwriting voice but allows other people’s voices to chip away at it; she can’t say no to Jack or her agent. Only through grieving Jack’s death does she find the inner strength to forge her own creative path.
- Jack hopes a relationship with Ally will give him something to live for, but it doesn’t work out how he fantasized it would.
- Jack has lost his own voice and in the end, decides that Ally’s voice is his true creative legacy.
Once you have a theme or arc as a guide, it will dictate other changes. For example, if the theme is “Fame makes it hard to retain a clear sense of self and magnifies ordinary relationship problems,” then the revisions would be things like “Emphasize the ‘inner void’ aspect of Jack’s addiction”, “portray media and social media criticism and personal attacks”, and “Show how being fawned over and photographed in the early scenes affects Jack”.
If the theme is “Ally learns to use her voice” then I might suggest adding a brief scene after Jack’s death where she stands up to her manager, or confidently art-directs the memorial concert.
This can be subtle! In fact, for a movie like this, it probably should be. But I always say a story is like a sweater, and in this case the relevant point is that it needs shape.
2. Let the songs carry more story. Use them to give me information about the characters’ emotional lives/journeys that wasn’t provided other places, or that they don’t know how to express in other ways. Jason Isbell’s song was beautiful, and on an album I would have enjoyed it without question. But this is a movie!
3. More Lady Gaga, less Bradley Cooper.
In fact, here’s my advice: don’t direct, produce, star in, and write music for a movie unless you have the self-control not to have your base artistic choice be “Now zoom in on my face.”
The Grammy scene especially would have played more effectively if we saw more of her reactions (new information) and less of him being drunk (the same information repeated over and over).
4. More Anthony Ramos! I say this for purely unselfish artistic reasons.
5. It was very weird to me that they made a whole big thing about Lady Gaga’s nose and then never did a storyline where someone Photoshopped it smaller. In fact, no one ever mentioned her nose at all! Not following up makes it look like she was just being paranoid or not Leaning In, when in fact, noses are Photoshopped every day.
What do you think? What would you change about the A Star is Born script?
I began this series to celebrate my new book doctoring and research assistance freelance business, Rose Does the Research.
I promise if you hire me, I will give you much gentler feedback than this!