Oct 18

“A Star Is Born”: Why You Might Feel Triggered

What does remake-of-a-remake-of-a-remake A Star Is Born, with Lady Gaga (Ally) and Bradley Cooper (Jackson), depict that some viewers may find troubling? Ahead are possible triggers and spoilers from review excerpts.

The Coupling

Britt Hayes, ScreenCrush: “…a perfect reflection of institutionalized misogyny; it is a movie that is very much of our time, but we are living in a time that demands so much more — at the very least, criticism of a world in which the best a woman like Ally can hope for is marrying into fame with an alcoholic because he’s the only person who ever admired her nose.”

Misogyny and Boundaries

Headline by Aja Romano, Vox, is A Star Is Born has a problem with consent”:

Throughout the film, Lady Gaga’s character, Ally, says no, and her ‘no’ is always converted into a ‘yes’ by men. This happens again and again, from every man around her: her father and his friends…

Narratives where a woman’s no always means yes directly contribute to rape culture. Sexual harassment and assault occur in part because men are taught to view women as saying no when they mean yes, and to wear women down through repeated asking until their no changes into a yes.

Ally’s Mental Health

Aja Romano, Vox“Despite the number of lines given to its female star, no version of A Star Is Born has ever cared about her psychological makeup, pivoted around her decisions, or given her much agency over her own career.”

Jackson’s Addiction and Emotional Abuse

Robyn Bahr, Vice: “…It’s truly one of the best cinematic examples of an emotionally abusive relationship I’ve ever seen. And much like real life, it’s hard to detect when toxic behavior crosses the line into systematic emotional abuse.”

Jackson’s Mental Health

Elizabeth Cassidy, The Mighty: “While Jack goes to rehab, which happens in other renditions as well, we could expect Jack to seek more mental health treatment than would have been available in the ’30s, ’50s or ’70s.”

Aja Romano, Vox: “When he ultimately realizes his disgrace is hurting Ally’s career, he decides to die rather than continue hindering her rise. It’s framed as a tragic, noble sacrifice — but while it’s absolutely a tragedy, it’s anything but noble, because it’s brought about in part by his inability to see Ally and her career as existing apart from him.”

Britt HayesScreenCrush: “While the impetus for his relapse (Ally’s producer makes a couple cruel comments) seems flimsy, the actual relapse and subsequent suicide are deeply upsetting — and borderline triggering for anyone who’s lost a loved one to addiction.”

Concluding Thoughts

Li Lai, Mediaversity Reviews:

By all means, go and enjoy A Star is Born. Cooper and Gaga bare their souls in this film, and that level of vulnerability is brave and laudable. But know that its 1937 story goes wholly unchallenged and can be discomfiting to watch in certain scenes, especially given these current times where, much like Ally, women continue to be controlled by broken men with too much power in their hands.

Robyn Bahr, Vice: “Jackson Maine is a tragic character because of the childhood neglect he suffered and the heartbreaking choice he makes at the end of the film. But his inner demons don’t absolve him from inflicting devastating control over the woman who loves him and, hopefully, viewers see that message loud and clear.”

Aja Romano, Vox:

A Star Is Born keeps being remade because Hollywood is besotted with the mechanics of stardom, refracted here through a lens of male power and female submissiveness. It’s deeply frustrating that this story has reappeared, with all its problems, at a moment when we’re taking a hard look at the very kinds of power imbalances and consent issues within the industry that this film reifies, and even romanticizes. Maybe by the time the next remake comes along in another 20 years or so, we’ll have finally figured out that it’s really just a bad romance.

Oct 30

“Burnt”: If Nothing Else At Least This Film Has a Shrink

Directed by John Wells, the new film Burnt, which has Bradley Cooper as top chef Adam Jones, has been pretty “burnt” by the critics so far.

The plot: Adam, who’s destroyed his career with substance abuse and unacceptable behavior, tries to regain control of his work and life.

Some of Justin Chang‘s review in Variety seems particularly appropriate, if not complimentary, for this blog. He calls Burnt “a moody-foodie therapy session that follows an increasingly tidy narrative recipe as it sets this one-man kitchen nightmare on a long road to redemption.”

Adds Carole Mallory (Huffington Post), “Sobriety is a tough journey and not the one, two, three effort that Adam Jones travels in Burnt.”

And, Elise Nakhnikian, Slant: “…(T)he ‘real’ story is Adam’s psychological rehabilitation. As everything in this by-the-numbers script signals, our hero must transform himself from an abusive tyrant in the kitchen and a loner at home to the head of a loving and fully functional family, in both his professional and his personal lives. Can he do it? The suspense (or something) is killing me.”

Other big-name stars include Sienna Miller as his sous chef and potential love interest, Daniel Brühl as a maître d’ (who happens to be gay), Uma Thurman as a restaurant critic (“a brief but amusing appearance as a tough lesbian food critic,” says Rex Reed, New York Observer)—and Emma Thompson as Adam’s shrink.

As stated by Alonso Duralde, The Wrap, psychiatrist Dr. Rosshilde (Thompson) has to administer weekly drug tests to Adam, per his new restaurant investors, and is “just dying to get this brash young chef to open up to her about what’s really bugging him.”

But because most of the cast, according to Justin Chang (Variety), ultimately “are forced to serve a basically therapeutic purpose, trying to show Adam that his extreme perfectionism is destroying his capacity for functional human relationships…even the never-unwelcome Emma Thompson seem(s) pretty redundant in the role of an actual therapist.”

Scott Mendelson, Forbes: Thompson has fun as a would-be therapist to whom Adam must report to in order to reaffirm his continuing sobriety, although the film feels on the verge of revealing that she is his mother or some such notion.”

Oh, I so hope she’s not indeed related to her client in any way (à la the misguided 2005 Prime, in which Thurman ‘s shrink, played by Meryl Streephappens to be the mom of her boyfriend). (See previous post about the therapist’s weird handling of the boundaries.)

At least there’s this, from Glenn Kenny, rogerebert.com: “The movie goes up several notches in quality every time Emma Thompson, as a sagacious therapist, turns up.”

Jan 23

Trauma of War (Psychological): “American Sniper,” “Crisis Hotline”

Two current films that address the psychological trauma of war are up for major awards: Clint Eastwood‘s based-on-a-true-story feature American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper as Navy SEAL Chris Kyleand the 40-minute documentary Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, directed by Ellen Goosenberg Kent, which was first seen on HBO in 2013.

I. American Sniper 

Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News: “Though it never uses the term ‘PTSD,’ American Sniper, at its best, is a devastating portrait of post-traumatic stress disorder.” Vognar elaborates:

Eastwood, Hall and especially Cooper walk the line between Kyle’s valor and his torment. The movie is strongest when Kyle is home, as his wife, Taya (Sienna Miller, also strong), wonders whether the man who was her husband might re-enter the land of the living. Cooper turns Kyle’s emotional vacancy into a vivid presence. He wears it in the hollow eyes, and the clenched jaw, and the monosyllabic shutdown when anyone expresses concern.

The trailer’s below:

In a recent Psychology Today post, Dr. Jeremy Clyman asserts that Kyle’s PTSD emerges “mostly in-between his second and fourth tours.” Further explanation:

He remains adaptively sharp and competent on the battlefield but during his brief re-integrations into normal society and home life there are some telltale signs: we see him uncomfortable in his own skin, anxious about being away from the battlefield, lost in thought (awful war-related recollections) and, less frequently, sucked back into some re-experiences. He is also adamantly opposed to his wife’s efforts to discuss his experiences and, in general, seems unable to relax into his old life and affable persona. His default mode at home is irritable and guarded; he is visibly edgy when lawnmowers sound off, and inappropriately panicked when his infant cries.

A well-known irony is that in 2013 Kyle was fatally shot, allegedly by another veteran with PTSD, a man Kyle was trying to help.

II. Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

“Based in Canandaigua, NY and open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the Veterans Crisis Line receives more than 22,000 calls each month from veterans of all conflicts who are struggling or contemplating suicide due to the psychological wounds of war and the challenges of returning to civilian life” (HBO). Other reasons vets call the hotline include PTSD, depression, and addiction, as well as other effects of the trauma of war.

The Veterans Crisis Line number is 1-800-273-8255. And yes, press 1. It’s not only for vets but also their loved ones.

This film focuses on the helpers, who “react to a variety of complex calls and handle the emotional aftermath of what can be life-and-death conversations.”

Who are the helpers? From HBO’s website: “These are superbly well-trained people, deeply compassionate and about a quarter of them are veterans themselves.”

Viewers are privy only, of course, to one-sided conversations— you hear “the responders’ compassionate reactions” to the trauma of war.

Paul Szoldra, Business Insider: “Calls can be minutes or hours and can sometimes lead to dire circumstances — with supervisors calling local police to visit veterans on the line that have guns right by their side. The responders use phrases like ‘No one can replace you,’ ‘Your children need you,’ and ‘Your family loves you’ — sometimes being the last person that a veteran may talk to before taking their own life.”

Brian LowryVariety: “…(J)ust living through a few of these exchanges illustrates the nerve-wracking, grueling nature of the work, and one can only imagine the psychic toll exacted upon those fielding these pleas for help.”

For more resources for veterans and their families, click on this link on the Veterans Crisis Line website.

Nov 15

“Silver Linings Playbook”: The Mental Health Issues

Silver Linings Playbook is based on Matthew Quick‘s 2008 novel and was adapted for the screen and directed by David O. Russell. The official movie description:

Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) has lost everything — his house, his job, and his wife. He now finds himself living back with his mother (Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert DeNiro) after spending eight months in a state institution on a plea bargain. Pat is determined to rebuild his life, remain positive and reunite with his wife, despite the challenging circumstances of their separation. All Pat’s parents want is for him to get back on his feet-and to share their family’s obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles football team. When Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a mysterious girl with problems of her own, things get complicated. Tiffany offers to help Pat reconnect with his wife, but only if he’ll do something very important for her in return. As their deal plays out, an unexpected bond begins to form between them, and silver linings appear in both of their lives.

What kind of mental health issues are shown? Pat’s diagnosis is bipolar disorder. Others around him exhibit different types of overt issues. Grief, OCD, codependency, and sports mania are just a few that inhabit family members and friends.

How Well Are the Mental Health Issues Portrayed in Silver Linings Playbook?

James BerardinelliReelViews: “…If there’s a criticism to be leveled at Silver Linings Playbook, it’s that the mental illness elements recede into the background during the final half-hour to allow things to progress as a more conventional romantic comedy.”

Justin ChangVariety: “While the pic’s willingness to make light of Pat’s disorder may give some pause (at one point, he and Tiffany bond over which meds they have and haven’t taken), it doesn’t soft-pedal his journey to rock-bottom, and Russell’s technique so bristlingly evokes the character’s mental state that one feels sympathetically swept up in his experience rather than positioned outside it.”

What about Pat’s therapist? As it turns out, there’s very little of him (played by Anupam Kher) in the film.

Possible spoiler coming: Pat’s (and the audience’s) very first meeting of Patel immediately follows Pat’s violent response to hearing “My Cherie Amour” in the not-private waiting room. Pat confronts Patel about allowing to be played what is in fact his personal known-to-be-rage-triggering song, and the not-sensible, not-wise shrink admits he purposely did it in order to “test” him.

Not cool, in my humble clinical opinion.

Not a spoiler: Whereas on the more positive side, Dr. Patel does continually encourage Pat to make healthier choices…

Another spoiler alert, sparing you many of the details: …Patel’s not the best at his own choices. The eventual “dysfunctional” twist regarding this doc occurs outside the therapy office and is just one more in a never-ending string of movie depictions of unacceptable therapist boundaries that are never explained to the audience as such.