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Blu-ray Review: Barbra Streisand’s ‘A Star is Born’ Remake Fizzles Out Fast
CHICAGO – Barbra Streisand is a classic example of a genuine talent who started out big and quickly became too big for her britches. She never came close to topping her phenomenal debut in 1968’s “Funny Girl,” which presented the larger-than-life performer in all of her contrasting shades—funny and tragic, vulnerable and indomitable. Sadly, that picture marked the last time Streisand could conceivably pass for anyone other than—well, Streisand.
The basic premise of Frank Pierson’s woefully misguided 1976 remake of “A Star is Born” is inherently flawed, since it asks the audience to root for a woman who is the last person on Earth in need of a rooting section. As aspiring singer-turned-overnight sensation Esther Hoffman, Streisand is all brassy confidence from the word go, thus negating any possibility for a compelling character arc to sustain the interminable 140-minute running time. The range that she displayed so unforgettably in “Funny Girl” has been reduced, in less than a decade, to a one-note caricature so inflated with self-importance that it’s drained her of all personality.
Blu-ray Rating: 2.0/5.0
Sure, Judy Garland wasn’t a meek newcomer either when she starred in George Cukor’s 1954 “Star is Born,” but the script’s portrayal of drug addiction and self-destruction clearly hit close to home for the actress, inspiring her to deliver one of the most nakedly authentic performances in cinema history (not to mention one of the best, period). In contrast, Streisand’s mannered tears and tirades are flat-out amateurish, while the soundtrack is painfully pedestrian. Even the picture’s Oscar-winning number, “Evergreen,” is instantly forgettable, and doesn’t come within a billion light years of equaling the astounding power of Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin’s Oscar-nominated song, “The Man that Got Away,” sung by Garland with enough fire to set the screen ablaze. Streisand’s film delivers so few sparks that it could leave a forest of dead trees entirely intact. To say the chemistry is nonexistent between the leading lady and her screen prop—er, partner would be an insult to not only chemistry, but the complete Periodic Table. Kris Kristofferson’s mopey-eyed, maddeningly lethargic rock star is devoid of any discernible appeal (melodic or otherwise), yet that’s irrelevant when paired with Streisand, who is incapable of having chemistry with anyone other than herself.
A Star is Born was released on Blu-ray on February 5th, 2013.
Photo credit: Warner Home Video
The most telling moment occurs at the very end, as the film devolves into a static close-up of Streisand’s face as she delivers yet another overlong variation on “Funny Girl”’s glorious torch song, “My Man.” Who needs showstoppers when your star IS the whole show, anyway? The sole highlight on this uninspired Blu-ray release is a recycled audio commentary track from Streisand, who voices her thoughts not just on the film itself, but on the 17-minute array of deleted scenes, which includes an alternate cut of the final scene. Streisand admits that she would’ve preferred to use the discarded version of her climactic number, which frenetically jumps to a series of diverse camera angles at the very end. This technique releases the tension sustained by the close-up, while suggesting that the spirit of Esther’s deceased lover is being channeled through her increasingly energetic movement. This is a great idea, though it only would’ve worked if the alleged romance between Streisand and Kristofferson was credible in the least. Alas, no one is inhabiting Esther’s body—not even Esther. Only Streisand remains, so it’s fitting for the camera to remain fixed on her as she dances on her own.
“A Star is Born” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 1.77:1 aspect ratio) and includes no new extras apart from a glossy digibook. There’s one amusing deleted scene where Esther nearly sets fire to her kitchen (recalling Streisand’s screwball charm in Bogdanovich’s “What’s Up Doc?”), though it isn’t nearly as funny as the following piece of throwaway dialogue that somehow got left in the final cut. After Kristofferson abandons his audience midway through a performance, hijacks a motorcycle, and sails it over the edge of the stage, a disgruntled fan moans, “That’s the third time he’s done that!” If there’s one thing a fan won’t stand for, it’s a performer devoid of new material.