A Star is Born says as much about becoming famous as it does about addiction. In fact, addiction is at the very core of the story. So much so that the film could almost be titled An Addict is Born and still be fairly accurate.
An Addict is Born
(Warning: Spoilers to come!)
An Addict is Born probably wouldn't play well on the marquees. Not so much because it's not as enticing and romantic of a title (though there is that), but because such a title would so accurately mimic hundreds of thousands of plain, old ordinary real lives. And we primarily go to the movies in order to escape our day-to-day, not to see it enlarged on a big screen.
On the other hand, we also need to identify with whatever characters we're sitting alone with in the dark for two hours or so. We need some kind of connection to them -- and to their story. Even superheroes are given characteristics that correspond with Everyday Jacks and Jills. That's what helps us best appreciate their superpowers. It's also what enables us to believe in them, regardless of the unbelievability of their feats.
A Star is Born of course doesn't concern superheroes; not of the caped and masked variety anyway. There is however something super heroic about both lead characters: Jackson Maine (played by Bradley Cooper), the star who serves as mentor, and Ally (Lady Gaga), the star who is to be born. In the first place there's the inner drive to rise above their stations. The summoning of that certain, special undefinable something which springs from within, knows no boundaries and enables people to realize even the most outlandish dreams. In short, to become stars, whatever it takes. A feat which requires no small amount of superpowers, both hidden and apparent.
Perhaps the most heroic elements about A Star is Born though come from the pair's battle against addiction. Yes, Jackson Maine may be the addict. But his struggles with opioids and alcohol impact Ally's life at every turn. And both lead characters often show an incredible amount of superheroics simply in getting through their day. They also too often don't show the requisite superheroics. And therein lies the rub. For Jackson's failing to save the day means taking his own life.
A Star is Torn
Many addiction professionals have been critical of the way the addiction narrative plays out in A Star is Born. They believe Ally stuck around too long and became something of an enabler. They believe Jackson's recovery facility was too chi-chi to be effective. More, they see Jackson Maine's failing to save his own day as a slap against the efficacy of addiction treatment itself. And in depicting that failure, they see a missed opportunity to advance a more hopeful -- and helpful -- addiction narrative.
In fact, the recovery community's general consensus seems to be that the makers of A Star is Born had a responsibility to write a happy ending to the addiction story. Or at least to provide an ending that better reflects all the promise and possibilities to be found in successful and effective addiction treatment. But that would mean ignoring the sad, brutal truth of the matter. Too many people do leave recovery too soon. And those that do often end up dead. Does that sound cold and ruthless to you? Well, it should. Because addiction is one of the coldest and most ruthless issues known to humankind.
Would A Star is Born have won the Best Picture Oscar if Jackson Maine's character had survived his battle against addiction? Hard to say. Without the horrors of addiction hanging over the entire narrative the movie may not have even been nominated. Maine's tragic downfall most certainly added a deep and unmitigated poignance to the proceedings. It also earned Cooper a well-deserved Best Actor nomination. Ally's co-dependency portrayal though was equally poignant. And Lady Gaga most certainly deserved her nomination too. Furthermore, the ties that bind people in addiction quite likely also helped provide the remarkable chemistry both Gaga and Cooper displayed on Oscar night itself.
Most importantly perhaps, A Star is Born reminded everybody that addiction is everywhere. It impacts everyone. And without serious -- and seriously considered -- treatment, addiction will remain everywhere to boot. It doesn't matter whether or not you believe the movie short-changed recovery. It proved that an addict can't go on without it. Something essential to remember if you or your loved one is afflicted with addiction.