A Star Is Born: A Cold Hard Look At A Feminist Masterpiece

Kristin Devine

Kristin has humbly retired as Ordinary Times' friendly neighborhood political whipping girl to focus on culture and gender issues. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of https://atomicfeminist.com/

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13 Responses

  1. I really liked this post, Kristin. When I saw ASIB for the first time (last May, I believe?), I didn’t even think about the feminist (or feminist adjacent?) angle. I’ll have to think about it more before deciding how much of your analysis I agree with. But what you say here really makes sense.

    I will say I certainly agree with these parts from your OP:

    If we continue to portray controlling men in fiction as one-dimensional, knuckle-dragging, easy-to-spot villains rather than as a rather common and all-too-often adorable manifestation of the male archetype, women will continue to blindly enter into relationships with controllers because they aren’t bad guys and Hollywood taught us to be on the lookout for bad guys.

    …women need to hear about the insidious, yet outwardly loving ways that men attempt to control women and how even the awesomest guys aren’t always immune to the temptation.

    My temptation is to try to universalize those sentiments and suggest that those sentiments touch on the dynamics of all (or most) abuses of power. I say it’s a “temptation” because whether it’s true or not (and I believe that my universal is probably true or mostly true), it’s a way to redirect the conversation to something other than feminism and the way men treat women. And while I (apparently) am indulging that temptation, I want to acknowledge the specifically feminist analysis you’re offering here.

    Again, I really liked this post. Thanks for writing it.Report

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Gabriel, I always appreciate your input.

      In my life, I have experienced both a controlling partner and a controlling (and possibly psychotic) female friend, and also a controlling parent so I’ve experienced this dynamic from several angles. There are definite similarities (and weirdly, the controlling friend allowed me to see the tendencies in the other two arenas with crystal clarity when I never had before). I do absolutely agree with you there.

      That having been said the relationships have a different flavor to them because when it comes to romantic relationships, there’s just so much more there to control, yk?? You share everything in your life with your romantic partner, nothing is off limits, and so it is a lot more insidious and constant…even all consuming…than controlling tendencies in other people.

      Thanks for an insightful comment as always!Report

  2. Aaron David says:

    The difference between drama and melodrama is pretty basic. Both have three basic parts to be played; protagonist, catalyst and antagonist. In melodrama, the characters assume the same parts through the tale, never changing. In an actual drama, all of the characters change their position amongst those archetypes. Whoever starts as a hero can change into a villain at any time. This is because our reading of events depends on our own life experiences. We can all see someone, man or woman, as the villain. Or the love interest. Or the hero. This is because we have all seen people of either sex be good, bad or indifferent.

    This review is wonderful, and thank you for writing it.Report

  3. North says:

    This is a great review and makes me quite interested to see the film.Report

    • Kristin Devine in reply to North says:

      You should definitely see it. It may have been because I’d just been shot full of Novocaine from a terrible dental appointment, but I was engrossed in a way I hadn’t been engrossed by a movie for a long time.Report

  4. Mark says:

    Excellent review. The interplay between Jackson and Ally is mirrored in the subplot with the brother played by Sam Eliot. Jackson’s flaws alienate from his brother; at the same time we, the audience, remain sympathetic to him.Report

  5. CJColucci says:

    Somebody ought to get the rights and market all four versions of A Star is Born, and the predecessor movie with a different title that I forget, in one package. It would be interesting to see how well Kristen’s analysis applies to the other versions.Report

    • I suspect the source material was indeed where some of the quality of the storytelling came from. I guess I just respect Cooper’s choice here not to gut that in favor of making a more palatable character for himself to play OR a more politically correct movie. I could easily see a vanity-project-director making Jackson Maine into a wronged, mostly innocent dude, and just as easily see a Hollywood-product-director making Jackson into a very uncomplicated brute of a villain. He walked a line between those two things and I thought it was pretty admirable (and I generally strongly dislike him, so I had to rethink my opinion!)Report

  6. blake says:

    Another take on this is “Love Me or Leave Me” with Doris Day as the marvellous ’20s crooner Ruth Etting and James Cagney as the gimpy gangster who can’t let go.

    Saw it as a Doris Day tribute but Cagney steals the show.


  1. January 20, 2020

    […] recently wrote about 2018’s A Star is Born, which had at its center a dysfunctional romance that was brilliant in its normalcy. Hollywood […]Report