Note: This refers to the trailer only, as the movie itself has yet to be released.
Last week, I went to see “Ocean’s 8,” which is an example of how true “equality” in the movie industry consists not of making sure high-powered male and female stars receive identical salaries but by taking a popular franchise and replacing the all-male cast with women. Personally, I think it’s a case of playing it safe – the industry typically stretches out franchises like someone serving their family turkey tetrazzini the weekend after Thanksgiving. Or perhaps it’s a struggle to come up with an wholly original action/suspense/thriller movie, regardless of the gender of the cast. Still, it seems like Hollywood is trying to acknowledge that women, too, have the ability to mastermind crimes, shoot guns, scale buildings in a single bound and kick ass. Nothing wrong with this – unless you just aren’t a fan of gratuitous violence on the big screen, period.
But sometimes it seems that when Hollywood makes a few strides in the right direction, it promptly takes four steps back.
At a certain point in the summer, the powers-that-be, confident that their blockbuster-to-be-released has been sufficiently advertised, allow the fall movies to start gathering buzz by releasing the trailers. Which is how I stumbled across the one for “A Star Is Born,” which at first looked like unremarkable fare: a singer biopic starring Bradley Cooper who appears to be playing a made-up, not a real-life musician. A look at the Internet Movie Database told me that he’s playing a washed-up alcoholic musician, but who cares? He looks good in a beard, grips a mic convincingly, and can even act when acting is called for. Since it doesn’t appear to be Oscar-bait that works for me.
But, as it turns out, Bradley is not alone center stage – he has a co-star, none other than Lady Gaga, who also plays (what else?) a musician. As it turns out she, too, is struggling. She has a secret! Which is keeping her from achieving her dreams!
So what horrible secret is this perfectly ordinary-looking woman hiding that has crippled her to the point of agonizing low self-esteem?
She’s – gasp! – unattractive! People have told her so! Repeatedly! Sure she can sing like an angel, but well, there’s that problem of – what exactly? The stringy brown hair? Any decent stylist could fix that in an hour or so, even for a price that wouldn’t require selling one’s organs on the black market. As for the rest, there’s nothing an upgrade in wardrobe and some makeup couldn’t take care of.
As for stage fright and shyness, some judiciously prescribed medication and a little therapy might be just the ticket to help with that. But that’s not as romantic as having Bradley Cooper become your savior.
“A Star Is Born,” turns out to be a remake that was already remade. The first starred Judy Garland, the second, Barbra Streisand. Now (see Struggle with originality) the third time may work like a charm at the box office. Nothing like a makeover story – look at how “Cinderella” has endured.
A rather forgettable comedy, “Sorority Boys” featured a trio of college guys who, after being kicked out of their fraternity, don drag so that they can join a sorority and stay on campus. The “ugly” sorority members included Heather Matarazzo (long past her “Welcome to the Dollhouse” phase), who the late Roger Ebert pointed out in his review, should be picketed by women who were actually plain.
He had a point. When it comes to judging physical beauty, Hollywood doesn’t just miss the boat, it belly-flops into the water.
“Unattractive” characters still resemble people you’d pass on the street (without gaping at in horror).
But “attractive” characters are often played by actresses (and actors) who have surgically altered their faces to the point of no return. Who hasn’t had the experience of watching a new movie featuring a lead of whom you’re a fan, who has managed – since their last film – to have enough plastic surgery so that their face appears permanently frozen into a mask? As the movie proceeds, whether they’re happy, sad or in-between due to the events unfolding is anyone’s guess.
The first is ridiculous, the second unhealthy.
Here’s a suggestion for Hollywood. When a woman character gets an on-screen makeover, stick to what I dub the Hermione Granger Rule. Unless she’s been in a cult or a coma, acknowledge that she’s probably savvy enough to know what to do to look more attractive already if she chooses. After all, movies are supposed to mimic the real world, and in those, both genders are bombarded with tips from the media on how to become “better” from an early age.
Let her fall in love, if you want, but let her ultimately be the mistress of her makeover – and her destiny, too.