I Watched All Four A Star is Borns in One Weekend and I Can't Stop Screaming About It
If this were a video essay, I would just stand in front of the camera and SCREAM for nine and a half hours. Because that is how much time I spent watching all four A Star is Born movies last weekend and that is how they made me feel by the end.
This self-imposed movie marathon doesn’t have much of an origin story. I have no particular connection to any A Star is Born movie. I had never seen any of them, but knew the gist of the story. After the most recent remake/reboot was released, I had no interest in it instead opting to go see The Favourite. But when my coworker described it as a good “hate watch” I became intrigued, looked into all four movies, and I just decided I should watch them all and write about it and here we are, let’s begin.
In case you are not familiar with the story at all, here is a summary that works for all four movies: A man, once successful in the entertainment industry now abusing drugs and becoming irrelevant to his audience/industry, happens upon an attractive young woman and decides he will use his industry connections to give her her big break into the industry. She quickly finds success and quickly becomes enamoured with the man who seemed to have made her dreams come true; they are in love, they get married. Although he manages to lay off his substance abuse and overall bad behaviour at the beginning of their relationship, seeing her success while his own career is essentially ended, drives him back to his old ways. He drunkenly interrupts her award speech. She makes the decision to put her husband’s well-being before her own career/dreams/success/happiness and give up her career for him. As a reaction to finding out her intention, he kills himself. She is devastated, but gathers herself for one final public appearance, and uses it to honour her husband. The end.
Yikes, right? Sounds like all she does is be in love with a badly behaved man. There must be more than that. Not really. But let’s see what does change in each movie.
The Man: Norman Maine, movie star
The Woman: Esther Victoria Blodgett, renamed Vicki Lester, a nobody trying to be a movie star
The Woman’s Only Friend: Danny, an assistant director (Bonus: Grandma Lettie!)
The Producer: who cares, he’s another old white man
The Publicist: Libby. He’s an asshole.
How they meet: At a wrap party, she is a waitress, he is drunk
Repeated Line: “Hey! Do you mind if I take just one more look?” after he drops her off at home that first night and just before he walks into the sea
Her career: movie actress
The proposal, wedding, and honeymoon: Casual proposal watching a boxing match; she says no you drink too much, he says he’ll stop. Married at city hall, go on a camping honeymoon in a tiny trailer.
His first fall: being home alone while she works, taking messages for her, and then being called “Mr. Lester” by the mailman breaks him
The awards show: Oscars banquet, he invents the Razzies “What about an award for the worst performance?” and accidentally slaps her in the face
His second fall: post-sanitarium, comes out clean but Libby is mean so he starts drinking, no word for four days; he’s in night court, released into her custody
His suicide: walks into the sea; unclear if Vicki or anyone understands that it was suicide
Final Declaration: “I’m Mrs. Norman Maine.”
Surprisingly, at the end of this I think the first film is my favorite. Okay, the bias there might be that I was young and innocent when I watched it, not jaded and angry like the last one. But considering I’m not usually a fan of movies that old but enjoyed it as much as I did says a lot. And this guy is by far the best looking of the Normans and/or Maines.
Grandma Lettie is the only Strong Female Character
In all these movies Esther/Ally is the sole female in the movie. Which is awful to watch. How boring and unrealistic that this woman has no female friends. In the first film, however, she has her Granny at least. The first film differs from the rest by starting Esther's story before she gets to Hollywood. She’s just a Midwest girl who likes the pictures. She wants to be a movie star but her whole family tells her that’s dumb and she’ll never make it. But Granny has a great monologue, some quotable lines, and then gives Esther the money to get on a train to Hollywood. “I was only saving up for my funeral. And now I don’t think I’m ever going to die.” And she returns after Norman’s death to buck up Vicki to continue her career because “I was proud to be the grandmother of Vicki Lester. It gave me something to live for. Now, I haven’t anything.” The sass! Granny is a sarcastic old so-and-so and I love her the most out of all these films. If you only watch one, or one more, A Star is Born movie, make it the original and listen to Grandma Lettie! She is wise and sassy!
(Note: Lettie is another nickname for my full name, Letitia. So, yes, I plan on growing old into smart n sassy Grandma Lettie. You may start referring to me as such when occasion calls for it.)
The Man: Norman Maine, movie star
The Woman: Esther Blodgett, renamed Vicki Lester, singer
The Woman’s Only Friend: Danny, her group’s pianist
The Producer: some old white man
The Publicist: Libby, an asshole
How they meet: She is performing with her group, he stumbles drunkenly onto the stage and she manages to make it look maybe not so bad by dancing with him
Repeated Line: end of first night, “Hey. I just want to take another look at you.” before he walks into the sea, “Hey. I just wanted to look at you again.”
Her career: movie star, specifically musicals
The proposal, wedding, and honeymoon: Proposal is pretty cute- they’re secretly recorded during a break from her rehearsal and then they play it for us, and everyone in the scene, to hear but the dialogue is the same, wedding scenes are word-for-word the same, honeymoon in a motel?
His first fall: same. Doesn’t like being her househusband, mailman calls him “Mr. Lester”
The awards show: Oscars, same drunken rant, same accidental slap
His second fall: Same. Post-sanitarium, Libby triggers him, night court.
His suicide: walks into the sea, only the audience knows it’s suicide
Final Declaration: “Hello everybody. This is Mrs. Norman Maine.”
The beginning of this one had me thinking that maybe watching the same movie over and over won’t be so bad because enough is being changed what with this one being a musical and Judy being so great, but then after watching her movie-within-the-movie for 15 minutes and the intermission, during which I realized this movie is THREE HOURS LONG, the second half is nearly identical to the first movie, including word-for-word dialogue in scenes. That, I really didn’t need to watch twice in a row. The reason this one is three hours long is that every ten minutes is a five minute Judy performance. Almost every scene includes her singing, or they insert a scene of her rehearsing a movie or something between scenes. Judy’s great, but my god it’s a lot of musical performances.
His suicide is the grand finale to his selfish life
Norman/John Norman/Jackson’s suicide is pivotal to the story. And I hate it. Its meaning changes from the first two to the second two. In the first two, he overhears Esther saying that she’s going to give up her career to be with him/help him/care for him/give him his life back. Rightfully so, he feels torn up and guilty about what he’s done to her. So he walks into the sea. The movie viewer knows his intention. But the newspaper headline says “accidental drowning”. It’s not clear whether Esther or anyone knows or suspects it was suicide. If she believes it was an accident then it’s just tragic but knowing your husband chose to die- that’s a different story. I don’t think she knows it was suicide. In the 1976 film, viewers who know the story will know its coming and see that he’s intent on dying as he drinks a beer and drives recklessly through the desert, but it’s left ambiguous and is never explicitly implied to be suicide by any characters. Preluding it, there isn’t an obvious scene where he learns of Esther’s intentions but he seems to know she’s trying to bring him on tour and they won’t let her and so she doesn’t want to tour? So, again, it’s presented as a guilt-based, self-sacrificing suicide.
In 2018, he really definitely commits suicide. No question. Plenty of foreshadowing (Thanks, movie, I really needed your help with that like I don’t know the story…) And with the mention of a previous suicide attempt, his suicide later changes from just the usual self-sacrifice to a symptom of mental illness. It’s not completely “I think this is the best thing for Ally”. (You could argue that in every movie he is dealing with mental illness which is shown with substance abuse, reckless behaviour, and suicide.) But they move around some scenes in the plot so that Ally’s manager (somewhat the replacement for the publicist character from the first two) tells him he’s dragging her down right before the scene where she says she’s not going on tour anymore. So, his decision to kill himself seems like a reaction to some guy being mean to him and just a little bit from what Ally says. And then he fucking kills himself. The selfish bastard. Every movie, he’s a selfish baby who can’t handle his wife being more successful than he is and then he tops it off by KILLING HER HUSBAND. How dare he. How selfish and absolutely terrible to the woman he loves and just so cowardly. Rather than step it up and work on becoming a better man, a better husband, or at the very least just quietly working on himself while supporting his wife, or maybe just leaving her alone for a while. HE TAKES HER HUSBAND AWAY FROM HER. The husband she loves so much that she put up with his alcoholic shit all this time and took care of him and was willing to sacrifice her career for him. He says fuck you, I’m going to traumatize you by killing your husband, and in the 2018 film, leaving you with the guilt that I KILLED MYSELF BECAUSE OF YOU. Yikes, guys. Yikes.
The Man: John-Norman Howard, frontman of The Speedway
The Woman: Ester Hoffman, nightclub singer (together with her two black back-up singers known as The Oreos!)
The Woman’s Only Friend: SHE HAS NO FRIENDS
The Manager or something: Nick Nolte- I mean, Gary Busey, who constantly serves up cocaine and Jack Daniels
The Publicist?: Some other man that works for the record label?
How they meet: He comes into the bar where she is performing, rudely talks through her song, she somehow still finds him charming...
Repeated Line: not in the usual two places, but he does say at one point “Hey Ester… I was just taking another look.”
Her career: musician, records an album, tours
The proposal, wedding, and honeymoon: after her first live performance (everyone loves her) she tells him she wants to marry him, he says he drinks too much, she insists, married at city hall “leave out obey”, honeymoon to the desert where they have a cute montage of building their ranch house together
His first fall: He never really gives up drinking, but he has a similar scene of being mistaken for her secretary on the phone, and not happy about it.
The awards show: drunken speech, doesn’t slap her but accidentally pushes her down on an escalator?
His second fall: no sanitarium/rehab for him to relapse, instead he cheats on Ester, but big surprise, she forgives him
His suicide: he knows he’s fucking up her career because she doesn’t want to tour without him but touring with her would ruin the tour; he leaves one morning saying he’s going to work or something and we have to watch a too-long scene of him drinking and driving and then we see the car smashed
Final Declaration: “Ladies and Gentlemen, Ester Hoffman Howard” followed by epic Babs performance
This movie would have been unbearable if it weren’t for Babs. Even with her, it’s a hard slog. Her performances, and some outfits, are all I liked about this one. Just when I think the Norman character is getting predictable and another one would be boring, Kris Kristopherson comes in with this boring lump of a character. Who is he? What does he do? Anything? Anything redeemable? YAWN. They changed a lot of the original storyline for this one and it did not work out for them. It would have been better off strictly following the original plot points with modern updates than changing the structure into whatever this is that I don’t understand and don’t care about, please stop making me watch him drive; I know it’s going to end in a crash, come on.
Women; they owe it all to men
In every one of these movies, Ester/Ally is surrounded by men. A man kick starts her career, manages her career, is her only friend. When she stands on stage to accept her award, she thanks the men who she works with and her disgusting drunk husband as he stumbles on stage. He is ruining her big moment and she just thanks him! If a man interrupted my acceptance speech, I would murder him with the award and finish my speech standing over his body, covered in his blood.
Over and over again, I watched these women forgive this man. He leaves her hanging? Forgiven when he shows up again. They get in a fight? Forgive him. He gets in trouble with the law because of his drinking? Forgive him and give up my career to save him. It’s hard to watch because their relationship shows all the textbook signs of an abusive relationship. We all know how easy it is to find yourself in an abusive, unhealthy relationship when you’re already so deep in it you don’t see a way out. These women see him as her savior; he started her career. She owes him everything she has, so she forgives him for his slip-ups. And, of course, the thing that will always keep you in an unhealthy relationship; love. She loves him, so she has to stand by her man and help him. It was sickening and sad to watch over and over, especially in the latest movie, as I really expect better at this point. Women aren’t so perfect now that don’t end up in these relationships; but writers know better than to romanticize this crap!
In 2018, Ally bounces between, sometimes within one scene, being told what to do by both her husband and her manager. Husband is supposed to be seen as the opposite of the manager telling her to be a certain type of popstar when he tells her to write her songs and do her thing, but he’s just telling her what to do as well. And then yells at her for being a success but not in the way he wanted her to be a success; for seeking others approval because his approval should be enough.
The 1976 movie gets us the closest to Ester standing up for herself; she lets him have it after finding him in bed with another woman. But she literally goes from yelling “I hate you!” to kissing him and saying “I love you.” And a scene later, he tells her he’s proud of her for standing up for herself; once again we need a man’s approval of her behaviour. The 1954 and 1976 movies both have a scene in which Ester is recording and instead of telling her band herself that it’s not quite what she wants; she has to tell a man to tell the men in the band to do what she wants. It’s painful to watch this dynamic play out.
Seriously, if you feel like you don’t already hate men enough, watch all these movies and join me in my eternal screaming.
The Man: Jackson Maine, rockstar
The Woman: Ally something, waitress and singer who only sings at a drag bar dressed in drag
The Woman’s Only Friend: latino GBF
The Manager: Sam Elliot -big reveal!- Jackson’s much older brother
The Other Manager: British boy, Ally’s manager
How they meet: He happens upon the drag bar, sees her perform and because he’s famous is allowed in the dressing room to meet her
Repeated Line: when he drops her off after their first night and before he kills himself “Hey. I just wanted to take another look at you.”
Her career: singer/songwriter/popstar, recording and performing
The proposal, wedding, and honeymoon: She tracks him down at a friend’s house in Atlanta, where she forgives him for his shit once again, at the dinner table with these people she just met, he slips on a ring he just made out of a guitar string (how dare they not play ‘Guitar String / Wedding Ring’ by Carly Rae Jepsen right now), quickie wedding in a church with his friends, no one she knows, no honeymoon period.
His first fall: He picks a fight with her when she’s in the bathtub?
The awards show: drunken speech, no physical violence
His second fall: no relapse post-rehab, I guess he had enough fuck-ups already
His suicide: hangs himself in the garage with his belt, instead of showing up at her final show
Final Declaration: “Hello, I’m Ally Maine.” followed by epic Gaga performance
Alright. Here we go. It’s been 42 years since the last one. Times have changed. It’s the era of #timesup and #metoo and breaking the celluloid ceiling and feminism is running wild and Lady Gaga, feminist activist who stands up for LGBT+ and sexual assault survivors is the star. Ya, this one is gonna flip it on its head! Damn the man! Girl power! Let’s do this!
Ya… I never believed any of that would happen. This movie begins with Ally yelling “Fucking men!” in a public washroom and frankly should have ended there. She spends the rest of the movie letting men tell her what to do, seeking their approval, forgiving their behaviour, and putting them before her. I’m so done.
It’s 2018 and we’re still writing women characters like this
In this age of Hollywood where nothing is original, everything is a remake, reboot, franchise, adaptation, someone was looking through old movies for ideas of what to remake and thought- you know what hasn’t been remade in a while? A Star is Born. Ya, let’s add a third remake to that. And let’s specifically remake the 1976 version which is inarguably the worst version. (If it weren’t for Babs singing throughout that movie, it would have been unbearable.) Good plan, Hollywood! Okay, so you’ve decided to remake a movie which originated in the 30’s, specifically remaking the version from the 70’s. The version from the 70’s which changed quite a bit from the first two films, to update it for the time and make something a bit more original. So, 42 years later, you’re going to really change it up again, right? Update it for today’s social climate, switch some genders or ages, add a more diverse cast, find ways to inject some feminism and social awareness into the characters and plot? Nah… Let’s make the same fucked up misogynist shit they made in the 70’s but we’re gonna change her name to Ally and put her in a drag bar because we know drag is real hip now, and we’re cool with that. Give her a gay latino best friend for diversity. More women? No, that seems unnecessary. She’ll stand out more if she’s the only female in the entire film… You can see why, even if I hadn’t just watched the first three movies, I would be SCREAMING throughout this one.
I already knew, having heard how terrible it was, but I am still shocked that they didn’t change the character or major plot points to make the whole thing less of a nightmare for women to watch. Still, she falls for this mess of a man, gets swept off her feet, does as he says, follows him around, asks him for advice, does what other men tell her, sacrifices for him over and over, forgives him over and over, stands up for herself once, and then forgives him again, almost sacrifices her whole career for him, and then after he kills himself still acts like she owes it all to him by declaring “I’m Mrs. Norman Maine.” / “I’m Ester Hoffman-Howard.” / “I’m Ally Maine.” because it’s still all about him. I’m still screaming. Imagine me screaming this in your face because that is how I am delivering this. Ask my coworkers. The whole office got an earful when they innocently asked me “What’d you do this weekend?"
Before I leave the 2018 version I just have two more things I have to scream at you- HIS VOICE!!!??!!!! I was baffled and howling with confused laughter when I realized oh he is really going to do this voice the whole time- and then when Sam Elliot literally accuses him of stealing his voice?! I died. This is way worse than when I watched whatever Batman movie with Bane and could not take him seriously because what the fuck is that voice. And finally, the hill I will die on in any A Star is Born (2018) discussion… SHALLOW IS NOT EVEN THE BEST SONG IN THIS MOVIE. This song won an Oscar?! “Sha-la-la-la-la-la-low” won an award?! No song featuring “Sha-la-la” should win any awards except something like “Most Underrated 90’s Bop” which is awarded to “Shalala Lala” by The Vengaboys. ‘Always Remember Us This Way’ and ‘I’ll Never Love Again’ are the only things I want to live on from this movie.
So, what did I learn after my weekend of watching Stars being Born? We really need to start making some new fucking movies, ladies. We don’t need any more stories of a woman being the leading lady yet somehow still second to the man’s story line. No more women succeeding only by a man’s permission. No more women sacrificing for undeserving men. No more! Please, someone write the antithesis of this movie in which Lady Gaga is a vigilante hunting down men who oppress and control women, which she will direct and win the fucking Oscar.
I can only end this with the last viewing note I wrote down; AAAAHHHHHHH