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Story Remix: A Star Is Born

Today, we’re talking about A Star Is Born, the film released just a few weeks ago, directed by Bradley Cooper and also co-starring Lady Gaga.

I know, I know. You’re probably like waitttt a second. WHY is this even a conversation we’re having on Creatives Making Money? MOVIE REVIEWS? IS THAT WHAT WE’RE DOING NOW?

So first of all, this is NOT a movie review. It’s more of an evaluation of the story and a deep look into the various topics it touches on that I feel FULLY relate to creatives.

Now, I love this film, but of course this film isn’t perfect.

All movies have problems, and so does this one.

I’m not going to pretend that it doesn’t.

The purpose of this analysis and discussion isn’t to compare the movie to previous versions of the story.  It’s not to tell you what’s good and bad and nitpick it critically. Again, it’s not a review.

The purpose of this conversation is to talk frankly about the open loops this film leaves in the audience and hopefully help you, as a viewer and creative, spark more conversations in your everyday life and/or our Facebook community on these subjects.

Now, if you haven’t seen the film yet — there are spoilers galore in this episode.

So just know that! If you wanna listen to this and then go see the film, by all means, do it. But just know you’ll want to experience the film first to get the most out of this episode.

So, as I said all movies have problems.

With A Star Is Born, one of the gifts and “problems” is that as audience members we are being asked to suspend our disbelief within the the very first ten minutes of the movie.

Now this is true for a lot of movies. Movies create a world different from our own, and when you decide to participate you are agreeing to be IN the world of the move, which operates by its own set of rules.

In this case, There is NOTHING traditionally “REALISTIC” ABOUT how this story kicks off.

In the first Act of the film, we meet Lady Gaga’s character (Ally) as she breaks up with a boyfriend and expresses her frustration with the opposite sex. She’s a server. She’s a singer. She’s doing the thing that so many creatives making money can resonate with — working the money job and writing her music and songs on the side — because she can’t NOT.

It’s WHO she is.

We also meet Bradley’s character — Jackson Main — a beaten down alcoholic musician that’s already achieved his supernova status.

By some complete fluke, driven by his addiction to alcohol, one night after his latest concert Jackson stumbles into the bar where Ally happens to be performing. A drag bar. A place where she’s the only non-drag performer.

And Jackson is immediately taken with her. She becomes his muse. That night, they stay up all night and have a bit of an adventure. But what’s special here isn’t that he meets her and falls for her.

It’s that it all happens so conveniently and seamlessly, but as an audience member — even though we are going “yeah right” at almost every turn, we’re also 100% ON BOARD.

And for a story like this, you have to be.

WHY? Because this is WISH FULFILLMENT STORY.

Here is Ally. And Ally is us. Ally is every person who’s ever had a dream, a message, a story, a passion, a talent and wished she could simply climb on stage and SHINE that big and bright — like A STAR.

Ally crawls towards supernova status as her relationship with Jackson evolves.

Now, as a woman watching this, there are some challenges here:

After they sing together, you know 24 hours after they’ve met, I can’t help but ask myself…

  • Is she really sleeping with him already? Does she want to?

Here’s another thing —

When you fall in love with characters, it doesn’t matter how fucked up they are — to an audience, the more flawed the character, the better. We’ll get back to that later.

As the movie continues, we get swept away in their love story and the wish fulfillment of Ally’s rise to fame — and we go along for this ride.

But the ride isn’t without bumps. (NO great story would be.)

More and more of Jackson’s backstory and trauma is revealed, as his tinnitis (and drinking) get progressively worse, and as Alli gets to know the man behind the fame more and more — we see just how REAL their problems are.

We also see and feel their love, the excitement and adventure of the change Ally’s experiencing. Their singing on stage together, writing songs together, co-creating, the beautiful power of it all.

But when we get down to the primal nature of this story and where it HITS us.

It’s about this miracle that anything can happen, at any moment, and totally change your life.

One minute Ally’s a server and the next she’s touring and shining her light — a change she seems to so distinctly underline in her crooning of the signature song Shallow when she says “In all the good times, I find myself longing for change” a change so many of us can relate to desiring.

It’s one of the oldest wishes in the book. Our inner child calling out for someone else, God, the Universe, another person to sweep in and change our life. Love us. Believe in us. Lift us out of what we’re doing. Make our dreams come true just because we’re worthy of it.

And aren’t we all worthy of it?

As we go on this journey as an audience member, it can’t help but kick up ANY hidden dreams you might be harboring deep inside.

WHY? Because you can’t witness this type of EXPLOSION of wish fulfillment without examining what it is YOU wish for. If you’re being self-reflexive as an audience member, this is how you can allow stories to serve you.

Here’s what I want you to know… if you watched this movie, and it kicked up the dust of old, long-forgotten dreams, you’re not alone.

Then, we get to the love story.

OH their love story.

There are so very many moments and scenes where we see Ally and Jackson loving each other so purely, so truly, so genuinely, that we don’t care that he’s a raging alcoholic and that she clung to him to lift her out of her existing life. But this isn’t a story about someone discovering Ally and deciding it was a smart business move to sign her. This is a story about Jackson bringing Ally on tour to be with him romantically, and sing with him, and that decision changing the course of her life.

And even though it’s riddled with conflict (I mean, he’s an addict and she’s codependent), it’s tough to look at their love story and not swoon.

Because through all of that, their love is so sweet and enduring that we can’t even judge it. We especially can’t judge it because it’s absolutely HUMAN to be either or both of those things. I don’t know one person who hasn’t been in a relationship at some point that didn’t somehow reflect what Jackson and Ally face.

This is where we get into shifting gender roles and the question I continue to ask leaving this movie which is whether women get to be superstars and have relationship.

I can’t help but ask this especially off the heels of Lady Gaga’s own stories of losing relationships as she became more and more famous and successful. (If you haven’t seen her documentary 5 foot 2, I highly recommend it.)

Both characters have to balance their careers with their private problems and relationship with one another. And as an audience member, I keep expecting relationship problems to pop up that don’t — most of the obstacles in this film are dominated by Jackson’s inner world and struggles.

Towards the end of the film, and the end of their relationship, Ally considers cancelling her world tour in order to be with Jackson and care for him. This is after he pees himself on stage while accepts her grammy, because he was messed up on drugs and booze.

But we still love Jackson, and so does Ally. We get glimpses of Jackson off the booze and drugs. Glimpses of who he really is. And we see him hit rock bottom and fight his way to sobriety.

As for me, I’m grateful this story helps us love an addict, but it doesn’t bode well for the future of being an addict.

And, I’ll speak from experience here — I know MANY artists who are artists because they feel more than others. They feel everything. They have a deep need to speak, create, express.  They can’t manage or function like “everyone else.” I’d say most struggle with anxiety and depression more than others — and it’s not just the nature of being an artist that comes with that territory.

It’s also the undue pressure and strain of also being in a position of constantly putting one’s work out there over and over and again and again and the vulnerability inherent in that work.

Once you have the audience, you’re then creating for them. What if they don’t like what you’ve created? How will they receive it? Just because a Star is Born doesn’t mean that the struggles are suddenly gone.

Which makes you question the VALUE of your work (and occasionally yourself) altogether.

The film also touches on this topic as a Rock Versus Pop conversation. As Ally rises to a new level of fame, she ventures away from the pure piano and guitar and vocals rock music she creates with Jackson and becomes a POP star. Jackson seems to think that’s not “good enough” or “real” enough. In more than one scene he expresses concern about her authenticity and ultimately de-values her work when she’s up for a Grammy because it’s POP, and not always super “deep.” Earlier in the film, Ally also has a scene where she calls this out during a dance rehearsal, saying “I don’t want to lose the part of me that’s talented.

Do we lose the parts of ourselves that are authentic and talented in the interest of commercial success?

THIS is one of those questions that we’ll always ask as we create and make money.

What IS the right balance between selling out and genuinely creating, purely, not for financial gain or commercial success? Does that type of art even exist?

And then there’s their parents.

We learn that Jackson didn’t have a father who was present and available and healthy and cared for him. His mother died in childbirth. He was largely on his own, learning nothing but that he wasn’t loved unconditionally by anyone except his brother — from what we know.

Ally had a strong father figure. Perhaps this is part of why she’s got a different emotional foundation, a toughness, a street smart, take-no-shit attitude that allows her to do things like punch a cop in the face at an after hours bar and think nothing of it. In many ways, she’s the protector of Jackson who’s never had a parent to do that job before.

And regardless of the WHYs of the parenting backgrounds each of these characters faced in their histories, we are still left with this resounding call-out around men and mental health. Particularly creative men and mental health.

Which anchors this story in it’s ultimate what I’ll call “resting place:” love and loss.

Watching this film, and Jackson’s journey, I couldn’t help but think about other recent suicides of people we’d consider “Stars”, such as Chris Cornell, Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade…

Jackson is a tragic hero.

He chooses to die so Ally can rise.
He chooses to die because he’s depressed and considers himself broken.
He also chooses to die because Ally loves him too much to leave on her own.

But that doesn’t make the pain any less significant.

Films that end this way leave us with all kinds of loose ends to process.

We wonder…

Did Jackson need to die so Ally could rise?

It’s a movie, so in the context of what makes a tragic hero, yes.

But in the context of thinking about all of the people in your life who might suffer from mental illness, depression, anxiety, addiction — no.

They DO need to seek help and get help.

This film is uniquely special in that it’s the type of project that doesn’t come around often.

It’s rare that films of this type and size get the greenlight. It’s a special moment in a career like Bradley Cooper’s to get this opportunity — and to slam dunk it.

And I mean that across the board. The music, the directing, the story itself, the ability to cast Lady Gaga exactly at this moment of her career where she’s already a supernova and is shifting how she shows up as an artist, stripped down, raw, vulnerable, naked.

I appreciate this film so much because it’s the type of project that doesn’t happen often AND it touches on all of this subjects so impactfully. It has a multi-media component as a musical and the music tells the story almost if not just as much as the film does. So as a musical, it’s on another level.

But the movie also leaves you in a state of grief, with a lot to process on, like…

  • Your dreams and wishes
  • Your love life
  • Your relationship with addiction and mental health
  • Men and women — and their unique challenges in the world
  • Being an artist and the challenges that come with that
  • Selling out versus being REAL
  • Loss and grief

My favorite scene in the film is the scene where Ally and Jackson’s brother Bobby are speaking after Jackson’s death.

In that scene, Bobby says “Jack talked about how music is essentially 12 notes between any octave, 12 notes and the octave repeats. It’s the same story told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer the world is how they see those 12 notes. That’s it.”

And I believe that to be true. Life is life. Story is story. It’s 12 notes. It’s the human condition. It’s the struggle of being an infinite soul with an infinite imagination, living in a mortal body. It’s knowing you’re going to die. It’s loving and losing. It’s facing the time you have on this planet and making choices every day about what to do with that time. How you’re going to spend it well, and wisely and truthfully. What you’re going to create that you feel matters — your legacy.

All of that is a lot. Especially if you’re struggling with mental health issues too.

Here’s what I want you to remember if you’re a creative and life feels hard today or just some of the days — because I know there are some days you might feel like an Ally before Jack, some days you’ll feel like Ally after Jack, and some other, darker days you might feel like a Jackson — remember that help is available to you.

You are loved. You are supported. You are valued.

You can reach out to a friend, to a call center, to a therapist, to a support group.

You have options. DON’T try to walk this path alone. You have a tribe available to you.

This is a big reason I created a community along with this podcast.

Now, I have some action steps for you that I’ll be sharing NOW — because I’m not doing an afterparty this week. Some questions I’d love for you to think about and journal on, and feel free to share what you discover in the group.

  • Your dreams and wishes — what do you want, really? If you could have life any way you wanted, what would you wish for?
  • Your love life — What do you believe about love and relationship now? How is that showing up, or not?
  • Your relationship with addiction and mental health — Is this something you, or someone you love, struggles with? What can you do today to help someone who needs support (maybe it’s you). Choose to walk this path with compassion and self-belief.
  • Men and women — and their unique challenges in the world — What’s your feeling about gender roles and dynamics? What do you have to face that’s unique to your gender, or your gender identity? How can you share that with others and provide and receive support?
  • Parents – how did your parents help or hinder your choices to be yourself, express yourself, and go for your dreams?
  • Being an artist and the challenges that come with that — Are you creating the way you want to be? Why or why not?
  • Do you feel like a sell-out right now? Why or why not?
  • Loss and grief — Is there someone or something you’re grieving right now? How can you create space for grief and let yourself truly and fully process the loss?

I’d love for you to think about and journal on these questions, and feel free to share what you discover in the group.