Warning: spoilers below
There are a lot of unrealistic moments in the latest iteration of A Star is Born, but perhaps the most absurd is the premise: that Lady Gaga’s character Ally is so ugly that she cannot possibly achieve professional success.
Ally is a waitress/occasional singer at the local drag bar who has all but given up on her dream of “making it.” She attributes her lack of success to her looks, specifically, to the size of her nose. Upon meeting rock-country star Jackson Maine, she tells him “almost every single person that I’ve come in contact with in the music industry has told me that my nose is too big and that I won’t make it.”
Ally’s shaky confidence is certainly relatable and her raw insecurity rings true throughout the film. Perhaps she is hiding behind her perceived ugliness as an excuse to refrain from really putting herself out there? Or maybe she clings to it as tangible proof for why she hasn’t yet achieved the stardom she had hoped for, or even why she thinks she doesn’t deserve it.
But I found this “success barrier” almost laughable. It seems so shortsighted when, in a world where so many are kept from success due to their skin color, their weight, or their queerness, we are supposed to feel sorry for Ally, the thin, white, cisgender, heterosexual singer with undeniably exceptional talent. Oh, if only, we’re supposed to think. If only she didn’t have that nose.
As Ally’s career begins to take off, she begins to change her aesthetic to match, and I couldn’t help but observe how quickly and easily she was able to assimilate into the role of pop star extraordinaire. It’s a new take on the classic “glasses and a ponytail” trope we’ve seen 100 times; she simply dyes her hair and learns some sexy choreography to complement her new set of diluted, radio-friendly pop songs.
Once she assimilates, Ally is rewarded with her face on a billboard — ultimate approval of her look. Her nose, the very thing that allegedly kept her from reaching success, is suddenly a non-issue. It isn’t mentioned again for the rest of the film, except for a single scene where a drunk Jackson alludes to her nose, calling her “fucking ugly,” in an obvious attempt to desperately put her down and pull her back to a time when she only had him to affirm her worth.
By the end, Ally returns back to appearance basics. When she sings at her husband’s memorial service, she is once again shrouded in her muted hair color and adorned in a simple frock and minimal makeup. Should we take that as Ally’s acceptance of her natural “ugliness” just like her late husband had when they first met? Perhaps we are to conclude that Ally is finally finding the beauty and confidence to feel comfortable in her own skin, ugly or not. Either way, it is worth noting that many women don’t have the luxury of exposing their “true selves” to society without immediate blowback and rejection, especially those with a much more tenuous grasp on the fringes of success.
Ultimately, A Star Is Born, while a beautiful retelling of this classic love story, could have put some more effort into transcending our traditional expectations of the path to success and who deserves to trek it. If Ally had been a woman of color, a woman of size, or a woman whose self-described “ugliness” didn’t still manage to attract a grizzled superstar, would her stardom have ever been born? I’m inclined to think not.
2018’s A Star Is Born is the fourth iteration of this film. The story is dazzling and Lady Gaga is indisputably a talented force as Ally. But if we’re making the effort to revitalize this story for a new generation, why not go the extra mile to broaden the representation within the film? I can’t help but think, had Bradley Cooper fallen for a plus-size vocalist or a woman of color struggling to prove that she deserves a place in the largely whitewashed music industry, the story would have been all the more compelling.
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Photo: A Star is Born / Instagram