After that show stopping performance at the Oscars and learning that the movie would have an “encore” performance release beginning March 1st for one week only, I finally crawled out from the rock I had clearly been living under and watched A Star Is Born. Just like the time I really should’ve dumped that one complete jerk of a guy, my friends had it right from the beginning. They told me I’d become obsessed with this movie, and I am obsessed with this movie.
Apparently, everyone is obsessed with this movie.
I’m a therapist who works with perfectionists in NYC, and when my clients started talking about it a few months back, I took notice. I always notice when themes from the zeitgeist repeat themselves in session after session, getting to be on the front lines of the modern psyche is one of my favorite things about my job. Was this movie particularly appealing to perfectionists? Clearly, but it was also particularly appealing to everyone. My friends, my doorman, my sister who ‘claims’ she doesn’t think Bradley Cooper is hot. Everyone related in a very personal way to this movie.
But why? Why are we all extra obsessed?
If you haven’t seen it, this post is one gigantic spoiler alert so stop reading immediately and come back to visit after you’ve watched (and you should definitely watch).
Now for everyone else, we can start talking about this amazing and terrible movie.
Amazing because of everything, terrible because why does Bradley Cooper’s character really have to die??
My immediate reaction as the movie finished was to look at my husband and ask just that, “Why couldn’t he have just bought a Peloton and drank some refreshing pressed juice?” Actually my immediate-immediate reaction was that I liked the color of Lady Gaga’s dress in the last scene (periwinkle blue just patently looks good on everyone) then I thought about the Peloton thing.
The point is, it was so tragic. I wanted the Hollywood movie ending, and since I did happen to be watching a Hollywood movie, I don’t think that was too much to ask.
Bradley Cooper’s character seemed like such an open person, he wore those circa 2002 thin eyebrows in the tub and he was really nice to everyone, asking the driver about his kids and being genuinely sweet even when the grocery store lady blatantly invaded his privacy and took his picture. Couldn’t he have parlayed that openness into some new thought habits, some general optimism, some more swimming?
In the Hollywood-ending version of life, you get really messy at times, but you figure it out. You scare some people who love you deeply, your hair looks like shit for around 5-8 months, but then it all works out. Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen in real life.
Did it help that Bradley Cooper’s character responded to his uncomfortable emotions by smashing prescription pills with the bottom of his cowboy boot and mixing the resulting powder into nasty warm whisky?
We can all agree, that was not a particularly salutary move.
But it’s also a universal impulse, to numb first. Unless you’re in the Enlightenment Brat Pack (Pema, Eckhart, Marianne, Ram Dass, etc.) you don’t immediately face all your challenges with a full heart and all the energy in the world to make the healthy choice.
We stay too long with people who hurt us, we continue to work at jobs that smother our joy, we eat foods that we know are making it harder to feel energetic…and lets just not even talk about the things we do to our poor cuticles.
This is why we’re all obsessed with this movie. Because we all already know the right things to do, we know what the healthy choice is, we just don’t do it. We don’t do it not because we feel like it’s a great call to spend time with people who hurt us or numb ourselves with food or alcohol or work or shopping or drama, but because it can sometimes be so painful to take in the good.
Why is taking in the good a painful process? Because before you feel what’s good, you have to let go of what’s bad.
So what, it’s bad. It should be easy to let go of bad stuff, why is that hard?
After you let go of what’s bad, you have to feel emptiness for a moment, and feeling emptiness is exactly no one’s favorite thing to do.
The emptiness will ask questions of you, and not the easy, multiple-choice kind. Questions like, “Who do you think you are?” “What do you have to give?” “Why do you think you deserve to be happy?”
Cue the numbing. A lot of people numb to the point where their daily functioning is disrupted; addiction begins or continues once again. Now we have the original problem, a new and also terrible other problem, and a parade of unhelpful negative self-talk lines running through your mind:
I should be able to get over this, I’m not strong enough, I’m not disciplined enough, why can’t I get my shit together, this is easier for other people, what’s wrong with me?
Nothing is wrong with you, you’re just human. More often than not, simple isn’t easy for humans. Even famous, hot humans who have found love a la Bradley Cooper’s character. No one is inoculated from depressive episodes or numbing behaviors, they’re universal experiences, we can all relate to them on an intimate level. They can all result in tragedy.
The point is, if you waited too long to do something, but ended up doing it, forgive yourself. If you’ve waited too long to do something and haven’t ended up doing it yet, skip the drama about how you’re such a terrible person for waiting so long, realize that everyone feels that they wait too long, and do all the stuff you know you’re supposed to do now. Everything else already happened. It may as well have been 8,000 years ago. Now is all you have. What do you want to do now?
Just think of this super simple acronym: WDYWBCCWDI?
“What do you wish Bradley Cooper’s character would’ve done instead?” (And no, I’m not gonna google the name of his character even though it’s probably annoying for you to keep reading ‘Bradley Cooper’s character’ because I’m self-aware (generally) and I know I’ll fall into an internet black hole of Lady Gaga on Jimmy Kimmel interviews, watching snippets of this amazing terrible movie on youtube, and shopping for periwinkle blue things.)
Point number two is that I really wish there were a quick fix, I do. I wish everyone could buy a Peloton and be like the attractive yet very sweaty (too sweaty?) people in the ads, who clearly have well prioritized, drama-free lives. I wish everyone could live a messy but ultimately redemptive story arc of a life and then toast to pressed juice. I of course understand that there is no quick fix. Depression and addiction threaten every good thing in your life. I know it can be incredibly hard to make even the smallest positive decision when you’re in the throes of the deep dark mess.
Depression and addiction make doing hard things feel impossible, but hard is not the same as impossible. So many wonderful things are still very genuinely possible, right around the corner even.
I don’t ever make promises in my work. I never say, “I promise if you do this, you’ll feel better,” because I don’t lie to my clients and I can’t promise any one solution will work. But I can promise you this — hard is not impossible. Wonderful things are still very much a possibility.
So yea, not to sound like a D.A.R.E. educator from the 90’s, but depression and addiction can be deadly. You and that heart of yours are gonna need a lot of help at some point, another promise I’m very comfortable making, because we all need a lot of help at some point. Sometimes we need all the help we can get. And the help is there, the earlier you take it the easier it will be. If you can, please don’t wait until you ‘need’ to go to therapy or explore anti-depressants or go to rehab or do the fill in the blank thing that your heart is telling you it’s time to do.
You deserve the Hollywood ending. You deserve every good thing.