by Krysten, a Hotline Advocate
The most recent film version of A Star is Born has been gathering heaps of praise from critics and audiences alike, including five Oscar nominations. Many have praised the onscreen chemistry between Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper in the decades-old story of a tragic, intense relationship gone wrong. While few of us are famous musicians, love and heartbreak are surely two things that many of us have experienced. Combine this with A-List talent, phenomenal acting, and memorable musical scenes and you have a stirring musical drama many people, understandably, find themselves connecting with.
Something that hasn’t received as much attention is the unhealthy dynamics present in Jackson’s relationship with Ally. The film centers around Jackson Maine (portrayed by Bradley Cooper), an established but troubled country rock star with a drug and alcohol addiction. Jackson falls for a younger songwriter named Ally, portrayed by Lady Gaga. He first sees her performing during a drag show and is immediately taken with her. From there, we’re pulled into the ups and downs of their love life, all the way to the tragic end. While the story is compelling and heart wrenching, it’s worth taking a step back and thinking about what could have happened differently.
One of the main issues with the film, as outlined by Vox, is that Ally’s right to make her own choices (also known as consent) is continually overridden by the men surrounding her, with Jackson being the main culprit. Jackson meets Ally after her performance and convinces her to get a drink with him even though she initially says no (already a red flag). They spend an exciting evening together and open up to each other about their backgrounds and dreams. She shares a song she wrote with him, which Jackson encourages her to perform publicly despite her insecurities. The next day, he offers her a flight out to one of his concerts, but she turns him down due to work obligations. At first, he accepts her decision, but when it’s time for the concert to begin, he becomes upset that she is not there and refuses to start unless she arrives. He feels justified in sending out his personal driver to her doorstep, telling him to refuse to leave until Ally gets in the limo that Jackson sent. Despite her discomfort with the situation, and the fact that she is supposed to go to work, her father encourages her to go to the big show and she eventually agrees. She even acknowledges how unhealthy the situation is, stating to the driver, “If I didn’t know Jack, I would have thought you were a stalker!” In perhaps the most memorable scene, Jackson puts Ally on the spot and pressures her to sing the song she wrote in front of a massive crowd at Jackson’s concert. Ally quickly becomes a viral sensation after videos of the collaboration spread online.
While it can definitely hurt to get turned down for a date or drink, it’s never okay to make somebody feel guilty for saying no by manipulating them into feeling obligated to take you up on their offer. Even if you are a celebrity, that doesn’t mean you are exempt from respecting your partner’s boundaries. The film very dangerously presents Ally’s indecision as something that may have caused her to miss a once in a lifetime opportunity. A healthy relationship is a partnership based on mutual respect and equality, and that includes respecting the limits and comfort levels of the person you have built a connection with, even if they don’t feel the same way you do. Someone you’re crushing on doesn’t exist just to make you happy and fulfill your emotional needs, and it’s important to always recognize that they are their own person. Ally deserved to be able to share her song with the world on her own terms, and to get to know Jackson at her own pace.
Another concerning element within the film is the lack of healthy communication from Jackson, in regards to the challenging emotions he faced as Ally’s fame grew. When one partner’s schedule becomes busier, changes in the dynamics of the relationship naturally happen. It’s understandable that Jackson may have felt sad about seeing her less, or even if he felt insecure about his own artistic talent. However, it is important for both partners in a relationship to be open, respectful, and honest about these types of feelings when they do come up. When we have open dialogue about our feelings and concerns with our partner, we are able to offer mutual support and encouragement which allows for both partners to find solutions that may bring them closer.
It’s also Jackson’s responsibility to examine his own insecurities and find ways to increase his self-esteem, rather than choose to mistreat Ally out of jealousy. Instead of being able to recognize and celebrate her well-deserved success, he shuts down when she shares good news of getting a record deal. Shortly after, Jackson passive aggressively shoves cake in Ally’s face. In an especially painful moment, he even tells her that she’s ugly, is coming off like a “whore” and has become inauthentic after getting a makeover for her new pop star image. Putting your partner down, insulting their appearance and trying to control their appearance is emotional abuse. There is no justification for using abuse to manipulate or pressure a partner into making the choice you want them to make. It is also important to note that while Jackson’s behaviors may have escalated while using substances, drugs and alcohol alone do not cause abusive behavior. We know that abuse is a choice, and each person is only responsible for their own actions and choices. Jackson is the only person that has the ability to address his mindset regarding his relationship with Ally.
Tragically, the film ends with Jackson choosing to commit suicide. While he never used suicide as a threat against Ally, we do know that many abusive partners do use threats of suicide to manipulate their partner. Additionally, there may be situations where partners who struggle with depression or other mental health related struggles take advantage of their partners’ concerns about them to influence the relationship further. Ally is left feeling responsible for the outcome, which is made even more heartbreaking by the fact that she had just told him that she was cancelling her summer tour to be with him. (Another red flag, since people in relationships deserve to be able to pursue their own dreams and goals without feeling obligated to prioritize their partner over them.) One point that this particular retelling of the story gets right is the presentation of Jackson’s choice to end his life as his decision alone. Older versions of the film tend to portray the situation as Ally’s fault, or something that she could have prevented, had she focused more on him instead of her career. Jackson’s brother offers Ally some validation by letting her know that this was something that only Jackson could control. The film ends on an emotional note, replaying some of Ally and Jackson’s best moments together, as she sings an unreleased love song that he wrote for her at a memorial concert for him.
With so many memorable moments in this story, it is understandable that so many of us have been swept up watching this beautifully portrayed romance. However, it’s important to remember that it is just that- a movie romance that does not reflect what a healthy relationship should look like. It’s also important to remember that no matter who we are, we all deserve to feel respected and safe with our partners, even during the tough times. Roadblocks and struggles are bound to happen at some point, but in a healthy relationship both partners feel safe and respected even during hard times. Respectful communication can turn these times into opportunities that encourage bonding and fresh insight instead of something that ends in pain. There’s more than enough room for the success and growth of every partner in a healthy relationship, and that’s an attitude that we should all strive to cultivate!