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'A Star is Born' Isn't Really About Sex, But Man, It is Sexy as Hell

By Roxana Hadadi | Film | October 8, 2018 |

By Roxana Hadadi | Film | October 8, 2018 |


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A few weeks ago Bradley Cooper stopped by Washington, D.C., to screen and talk about A Star is Born, and I was able to attend, and I told the man to his face that he had made a banger. He smiled and answered my question about the film’s legacy (a little cagily, in the same way that he only sort of participated in that interview with The New York Times) and then he left, and I’m glad he wasn’t sitting very close to me during the film itself, because I was a mess.

Did I have a very basic bitch reaction to this film? HELL YEAH I DID. I wept through the majority of A Star is Born, decimated a dozen or so tissues, and spent about an hour muttering under my breath, “JUST KEEP TOUCHING EACH OTHER.” Because there is a lot to like about A Star is Born — the much-talked-about excellence of Lady Gaga’s performance, Cooper’s grizzled and heart-shattering Sam Elliott impersonation, Elliott himself being amazing, the outstanding cinematography from Matthew Libatique, Shangela and Willam from RuPaul’s Drag Race — but what really moved me was the sensuality of it all. This isn’t really a movie about sex, but this movie is unbelievably sexy. Whew man. Whewwwww man! It’s almost too much.

[SPOILERS AHEAD FOR A STAR IS BORN, OBVIOUSLY]

What is your first really romantic pop culture memory? In continuing my basic bitchness, yes, mine is Titanic, Rose’s hand smearing the foggy car window, but also up there is the moment Romeo and Juliet see each other through the aquarium in Baz Luhrmann’s version (I HAD A LEO PROBLEM IN THE ‘90S, OK?), and when Yuri sees Lara again from the train after years apart in Doctor Zhivago, and how Nicky looks at Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. (Uh, yeah, I have an Omar Sharif problem, too.)

via GIPHY

via GIPHY

via GIPHY

via GIPHY

So many of these moments are defined by a glance that both demonstrates and furthers romantic intimacy, that is charged with feeling and passion, that is almost more sexual than the actual act of sex. Those looks say “I see you, I know you, I want to be around you all the time, I need you in my life, I want you forever.” Unless you’re doing some tantric-sex-Sting shit, sex doesn’t last that long, and certainly not very long in a standard cinematic film, not when a man going down on a woman still runs the risk of an NC-17 rating (yes, I’m talking about the underappreciated Blue Valentine). But the anticipation and adoration and longing built by those searing looks, by brief touches, by closeness that is often clothed but that generates heat you can almost feel — that’s the really sexy stuff, and A Star is Born is seeped in it.

Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine is immediately enthralled with Lady Gaga’s Ally; when he spots her singing “La Vie en Rose,” you know it’s over for both of them, that this is the moment. Cooper presents Gaga as if she’s already in bed — laying down, face turned yours, a bemused smile upon her face, the sort of body language that says, “Tell me your secrets” — and look at how Jackson watches her as she walks away. He looks, well, twitterpated.

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He’s overwhelmed and curious and almost immediately fully open with Ally, asking to meet her, gazing at her when she hears him sing live for the first time, asking to touch her nose, praising her beauty, asking to ice her hand when she punches an overzealous fan of his in a cop bar — and, most importantly, being utterly blown away by her songwriting skills, seen in the bare bones of “Shallow.” It would almost be a little extra if Ally weren’t rolling with it, going from surprised to intrigued to along for the ride to then totally besotted. How she raises her eyebrows when Jackson tells her she’s beautiful is a gesture of shock, yes, but also a bit like an eroticized challenge — Gaga conveys “You think you’re ready for this?” with that moment alone.

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They start touching from their first meeting — Ally’s hand on his cheek and his hand on hers, specific imagery that continues throughout the film, the two of them grasping for each other and leaning on one another and developing a partnership that is all-encompassing, for better and for worse — and it’s foreplay not for their first night together, but for their first song together: “Shallow.”

I’m sorry, but if you don’t like “Shallow,” who are you as a person? That performance is one of the best composed sequences I’ve seen in literally years, and its foundation is the insane chemistry between Jackson and Ally, his willingness to build something grand for her around the lyrics she sang to him in a grocery store parking lot and her willingness to meet him onstage, the only place he found comfort until he found her, the avenue he opens for her aspirations and her desires. Their duet is primarily a seduction: They each play a part, Jackson mouthing along the words to Ally’s lyrics and her guttural running of the scales that jettisons the song to its zenith, and when they lean into the mic together I thought my heart would crack in half. It might have! I WAS CRYING SO MUCH. The film never reaches the height of that moment again, and it’s not supposed to. That’s when Jackson and Ally fall in love; everything after is secondary.

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Yes, Jackson and Ally have sex later, after a failed first attempt because he’s too drunk, the beginning of the end so soon after the beginning of the beginning. But Cooper as a director isn’t interested in that element of their connection, and honestly, neither are we as viewers: the scene isn’t that long, it’s not graphic, and it’s more the suggestion of sex thanks to nude kissing than anything else. What is more primary here is the buildup, and the elemental bond that Jackson and Ally share, and the intimate ways they act on it without actually being in the bedroom. The way they pass his cowboy hat back and forth. How Jackson caresses Ally’s shoulder to wake her up. The way he curls his fingers along her boot as they ride his motorcycle. How they grasp each other’s hands before their wedding, how they smear cake on each other’s faces after the ceremony, how they lean in toward that microphone and toward each other over and over again, escaping the shallow together, only to eventually realize that deeper waters may not be that easy to navigate, not even when — or maybe because — your love seems impossible to contain, and impossibly difficult to sustain against the overwhelming power of addiction.

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A Star is Born is always going to be a tragedy (and a “stand by your man” tale, as long as the film follows the original formula, which this version mostly does) because that’s the story it’s telling: about fame, about creativity, about the weight of familial pain and trauma, about the artifice of performance and questions of authenticity, about defining yourself by your art and by judging others for theirs. Cooper’s version pays homage to the other films that came before it, delivers some songs that will be stuck in your head for weeks to come (there’s a reason the movie opens with the line “Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die”), and deepens the narrative by foregrounding all of the ways Jackson and Ally are enamored with each other, the intimacy that enhanced their bond and the affection that inspired their looks, their touches, and their songs. It’s the sexiest movie I’ve seen in years, and I’ll say it again: A Star is Born is a weeper, but it’s also a banger. Even without, you know, that much banging.



Roxana Hadadi is a Staff Contributor for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter.



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