I took my big nose to see A Star Is Born, Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut and Lady Gaga's coming-out party/film debut. As The Daily Beast’s Kevin Fallon wrote in his review, it’s everything you’d want it to be.
It’s splashy: As Ally, Gaga belts the film’s theme song, “Shallow,” through her nasal cavity, destining it for high school recital glory.
It’s serious: Cooper, as Jackson, mumbles through his beard, complaining about pop music like Waylon Jennings at an unlimited lunch buffet.
It’s star-studded: Dave Chappelle, Halsey, Alec Baldwin, and Sam Elliott all make appearances. (Even the dog the couple adopts together—played by Charlie, Cooper’s real-life pooch—acts his tail off.)
But there’s one supporting actor that A Star Is Born fails: Lady Gaga’s nose. The genre-crossing film—drama, romance, remake, concert documentary—can also be described as two and a half hours of schnoz porn.
Gaga and Cooper bump noses on the film’s poster. Unlike past onscreen couples, the pair doesn’t dance onstage cheek to cheek, but snout to snout. Cooper, who directed the film, has a penchant for close-ups that direct eyes straight toward Gaga’s... you guessed it.
One particularly egregious moment of objectification comes just moments after Jackson has met Ally. She’s a waitress and part-time lounge singer whose aquiline nose has kept her from finding the kind of fame her talent deserves.
When she confesses this to Jackson, he tells her that he “loves” her nose, leeringly drawls about how he’ll be “thinking about it” all night. As she fingers her feature, he reaches over and strokes her nose himself.
The lighting is red; the music is sexy (“Whipping Post” by the Allman Brothers). Ally takes the gesture in, batting her bedroom eyes as a man—a famous one at that—affirms the nose that’s kept her star from rising.
As Rachel Syme wrote in The New York Times, “It’s an arresting moment, in which she seems both receptive and completely assured.” David Fear’s Rolling Stone review marveled at the fact that the film, “[convinces] you [Gaga’s] Roman nose is Public Erogenous Zone No. 1.”
But here’s the thing—it’s not a public park, it’s Ally’s face. Jackson’s tracing of it shows his entitlement knows no bounds. He claims Ally at first sight. While Jackson tells Ally he's going to touch her nose, he doesn't quite ask permission. And he doesn't have to. Ask Trump: When you’re a star, they let you do it.
Jackson fawns over Ally’s biggest insecurity. Any woman who has sat through a date with a man going on about how much he loves her big nose, curvy hips, or prominent lisp might see through his attempt at grooming her.
Ally, unfortunately, does not. It’s obvious she’s insecure, and she eagerly gobbles up the crumbs of attention Jackson leaves for her. So what if this man is a vitriolic drunk who passes out mid-makeout? He’s made it clear: The world may call her ugly, but she’s beautiful to him. Leave him, and say goodbye to the validation.
I can not “HW-AH-AH-AH” with abandon, like Ally does in one raucous concert scene. But save for the whole talent thing, she and my younger self weren’t too different. Ally, like me, and so many mousey girls before us, keeps a copy of Carole King’s Tapestry over her bed. I remember the song “Beautiful” racking up plays in my iTunes library, it’s message cemented in my teenage consciousness: if you smile more, boys will like you.
Even as Jackson becomes seismically undateable—going on benders, criticizing her music, embarrassing both of them onstage as Ally wins a Grammy—she, in great country tradition, stands by her man.
Midway through the film, during a pivotal fight scene, Jackson calls Ally “fucking ugly.” (While she’s naked, no less!) This one line suggests that Jackson has been manipulating Ally the whole time. It’s the path of least resistance to really hurting her. He knows calling her ugly and threatening to take his attention away will terrify her, because he set up their relationship to hinge on his approval.
This pattern of abuse all started with that damn nose stroke, and Cooper, the film’s director/chief schnoz-toucher, packages it as a meet-cute. It’s not. It’s part of a strategic negging that renders Ally emotionally dependent on Jackson’s approval.
A Star Is Born was filmed in the spring of 2017, before #MeToo, and it shows. If it were shot today, as the movement’s simmer has reached a rage-filled boiling point, the script might not have called for Jackson’s nose caress. Or, if it did, perhaps Ally’s nose could have delivered a little electric shock in response. Anything that says: “My schnoz, hands off.”