Tuesday 10 October 2017

Movie Review: A Star Is Born (1976)

A romantic drama musical, A Star Is Born is primarily a Barbra Streisand concert with a bit of plot thrown in around the sides.

Rock star John Norman Howard (Kris Kristofferson) is rapidly burning out, late to his own concerts, addicted to booze and too jaded to care any more. One night he stumbles into a bar where lounge singer Esther Hoffman (Streisand) is performing, and an attraction develops. He subsequently pushes her onto the stage during a show, where her unrehearsed performance draws raves.

John and Esther get married, her career takes off while his fades away. Their marriage suffers from ups and downs, but his impetuous behaviour isn't conducive to a long-term happy union.

The third screen treatment of the story after the 1937 and 1954 versions, the 1976 film is by far the weakest. Although the decision to relocate the story from the world of film studios to the anarchic rock arena is a good one, the pacing, character development, and relationship dynamics are all poorly handled.

Directed by Frank Pierson and co-produced by Streisand, A Star Is Born gets bogged down early and often in prolonged scenes featuring Streisand belting out a succession of songs, and neither the drama nor the romance are provided an opportunity to gain traction. The cinematography and editing lack dynamism, and the film is surprisingly energy deprived. The love theme Evergreen became an international hit, and the film's soundtrack album was a massive seller, but none of that makes for a good movie.

Despite the bloated 140 minutes of running time, the narrative is delivered in plot-challenged shorthand. The few exchanges of intelligible dialogue contain contrived and painfully bad lines that fuel often ridiculous emotional vacillations. The supporting cast is non-existent (Gary Busey and Paul Mazursky fade in and mostly out of the background), and Streisand the actress never comes close to convincing as an undiscovered talent.

A montage sequence features artistic scenes of passionate romance, and Kristofferson is often the best thing on view, delivering a sinewy performance propelled by copious amounts of booze and filled with implied self-hate. But his character doesn't get the opportunity to complete even one song. Instead the screen is filled with Streisand for long periods in a display of unchecked egotism. At the climax, she gets about 10 minutes of uninterrupted close-up time encompassing her final performance and the end credits.

A Star Is Born unabashedly celebrates Streisand as a star chanteuse, but as a movie experience, it offers big hair and precious little else.

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