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Review: A Star Is Born

Barbra Streisand. Is. A Star Is Born. And two-shots have never been so completely arbitrary.

A Star Is Born
Photo: Warner Bros.

Barbra Streisand. Is. A Star Is Born. And two-shots have never been so completely arbitrary. 1976’s A Star Is Born, in which we’re asked to accept not only Streisand as a up and coming little bottle o’ moxie (I guess the Little Orphan Annie hair is supposed to symbolize her newly-hatching talent) but to also accept Kris Kristofferson as someone who’d be interested in her (I guess his willingness to undergo Kris-kross dressing at Streisand’s hand is supposed to represent his romantic patience), is what happens when you try to shoehorn a cumulonimbus ego into a reasonable budget. The only thing as epic in scope as Star’s cinematic forerunner—Judy Garland/George Cukor’s same-titled soap opera, itself a remake—is the admitted breadth of its star’s singing talent and the expansive girth of their vibratos. Otherwise, Garland and Cukor’s labor of self-love delivers the goods Streisand’s version seems strangely stripped of, all the better to take in that raw, uncut gift from above that is La Streisand. Garland and her orchestra are carefully framed in CinemaScope splendor, whereas Streisand apparently told her cinematographer (anyone who really thinks Frank Pierson directed this film wouldn’t recognize war wounds if they swelled up and fell off in their lap) to give the film a pseudo-documentary concert film feel. Garland’s backstage terror carries with it the sort of veracity only a dozen licentious back alley physicians can provide. Streisand’s modesty from the sidelines doesn’t even work as a creative conceit necessitated by the fact that the film can’t just begin with that eight-minute close-up of Esther Hoffman hitching her ‘fro from side to side and demanding her audience feel her now. Instead of knockoff Edith Head, it’s DIY ponchos made out of doormats. In an effort to make her impersonation of pre-celebrity seem real, Streisand gives maybe the most false performance of her entire film career. Her breathless delivery is meant to sound spontaneous but instead reads extremely mannered, like leftover affectations from What’s Up, Doc? Her banter with her black back-up singers, the Oreos, is frozen; they’re apparently an ice cream sandwich. Her lugubrious ad-libbed laughter and mid-bridge smooching during the one-take recording of “It’s with One More Look at You/Watch Closely Now” looks like an outtake from Daughters of Darkness. And is there anyone else who could accompany her climactic, lip-biting mourn-cum-concert with a solitary tear accentuating her best angle? Certainly not Mariah Carey. A 140-minute exercise in onanism disguised as a mere vanity project, A Star Is Born calls into question a woman’s right to choose.

Cast: Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson, Gary Busey, Oliver Clark, Venetta Fields, Clydie King, Marta Heflin, M.G. Kelly, Sally Kirkland, JoAnne Linville, Uncle Rudy, Paul Mazursky Director: Frank Pierson Screenwriter: Frank Pierson, Joan Didion, John Gregory Dunne Distributor: Warner Bros. Running Time: 140 min Rating: NR Year: 1976 Buy: Video

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