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Blu-ray Review: Barbra Streisand’s ‘A Star is Born’ Remake Fizzles Out Fast

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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.

HollywoodChicago.com Blu-ray Rating: 2.0/5.0
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.
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.

‘A Star is Born’ is released by Warner Home Video and stars Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson, Gary Busey and Paul Mazursky. It was written by John Gregory Dunne, Joan Didion and Frank Pierson and directed by Frank Pierson. It was released on February 5th, 2013. It is rated R.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Matt Fagerholm

By MATT FAGERHOLM
Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
matt@hollywoodchicago.com

Anonymous878's picture

Nope. She’s not

Nope. She’s not amateurish. Your review is. Get some humility. Evergreen forgettable? You’re just wrong about that. Huge hit then, still sounds good and still covered by many singers. Not the greatest movie ever but far from the disaster you’re making it to be.

Heshi's picture

Gee, Mr. Fagerholm. I agree

Gee, Mr. Fagerholm. I agree that Streisand has never really topped her sublime performance in “Funny Girl.” However, are you seriously disregarding her work in movies like “What’s Up, Doc?” “The Way We Were” and “Yentl,” to name just a few of her other wonderful performances? It’s really hard to read your critique when it’s founded on such a ridiculous premise. I suggest you re-watch her body of work, and re-think.

Rob Sullivan's picture

Your Review

You have no idea of what you are talking about. You show you young age with this very amateurish review that attacks Streisand the person more than it does review her performance. Moreover, Streisand has several highlky noteable films and performances to be quite proud of including “The Way We Were”, “What’s Up Doc?” and “Yentl” among others - and she is a highly skilled director, producer, songwriter and of course, America’s best selling female vocalist. Your review means nothing and won’t affect sales in the least. Long live Streisand, short lived online reviewer.

Paul Katz's picture

Mr. Fagerholm, You may not

Mr. Fagerholm,

You may not personally enjoy the song, but since 1976, “Evergreen” has proved not only to be one of Streisand’s biggest and most enduring hits, but one of the most popular and consistently performed songs for weddings or romantic events.

The movie its featured in may not have stood the test of time, but that song has. To claim “Evergreen” is forgettable is more writer’s hyperbole on your part than actual fact.

Streisand’s “A Star Is Born” is very much a product of its time and where she was at that point in her career. It may not be a great film, but if you read up on the history of the movie and the process of it getting made, it becomes much more interesting and understandable in terms of why it turned out the way it did.

Paul Katz

Paciano Osias's picture

I was hoping to find some

I was hoping to find some redeeming value in this so-called review from the eyes of the younger generation. Alas and alack! It was a total waste of my time.

For the reviewer to declare that Barbra Streisand is “incapable of having chemistry with anyone other than herself” reflects how must tabloid materials have influenced his writing skills. He obviously has not heard of or seen “The Way We Were” and “What’s Up, Doc?”, films with two of the most enduring and remarkable of on-screen partnerships.

And to say that “Evergreen” is instantly forgettable just shows how uninformed and amateurish he is in film music matters.

On the upside of discovering this article, I shall watch this very young man’s career, and enjoy the pleasures of finding him digging his own grave with his love for misinformation as shown in this review.

Dee's picture

What! This writer needs

What! This writer needs serious help! In addition to “Yentl” and “What’s Up Doc” — what about her great performances in “Nuts” and her performance and direction of “Prince of Tides” which was Oscar nominated for Best Picture and for which Nick Nolte won as best actor! And Barbra directed Lauren Bacall and SHE won an oscar for that performance. Barbra is one of the most honored and awarded celebrities in Hollywood history and Matt Fagerholm needs to watch some of her work — not just this movie (which by the way — was a success!) I dare you to sit down and watch some of Barbra’s early work too Matt — and maybe you’ll see why your write-up here is baloney. Oh—and some of the other comments here are right — this review isn’t an attack on the film — for some reason Matt doesn’t like Barbra — and THAT’S what I read here. So sad.

Robin Lipman's picture

Mr. Fagerholm, have you lost

Mr. Fagerholm, have you lost your mind????!!!!! What cave have you been living under????!!!! HOW DARE YOU, you PATHETIC excuse for a writer!!! I hate to even justify your asinine comments about Barbra Streisand with a response, but being that I am an ardent admirer of Barbra Streisand and one of her biggest fans on the planet, I was compelled to send you this letter as I was EXTREMELY appalled by the fact that you had the audacity to trash this movie and what’s worse, Barbra Streisand herself!!!!

I’m certainly not asking you to be a fan – she has BILLIONS of them and certainly doesn’t need an idiot like you for that, BUT you should get it through that pea-sized brain of yours that Barbra Streisand is not only the MOST TALENTED ENTERTAINER OF ALL TIME, but the MOST BELOVED one as well! As you can see by all of the other people who responded to your so-called review, I’m certainly not alone in my opinion of your piece of trash review.

A Star is Born happens to be the movie that introduced me to Barbra back when I was 14 years old and seeing her performance was a total life-altering experience for me. I had NEVER seen ANYTHING as amazing on the big screen, (or on ANY screen for that matter) in my life and continue to feel the same way about ALL of Barbra Streisand’s performances to this day. I can go on and on all day about the GREAT BOX OFFICE BLOCKBUSTER SUCCESS “A Star is Born” was, and the MILLIONS of people who adored it and continue to adore it with this FANTASTIC BluRay DVD, but that’s up to you to do the research before you spew your disgusting comments for all the world to see. You are a disgrace!

I’m assuming that you made your asinine comments yesterday because of your inexperience as a writer and obvious lack of taste and class. If I were you, I would seriously consider another career because your writing and reviewing is nothing but a big JOKE!

That being said, I HIGHLY, STRONGLY, and EMPHATICALLY recommend EVERYONE to purchase this movie, especially on BluRay DVD. If you have never seen this movie, you will be FLOORED by Barbra’s MAGICAL performance. She touches your soul with her every word and her every look throughout the movie (she says more with her eyes than other actors can say with an entire script!), and when you top that off with her UNBELIEVABLE voice, you will want to watch this movie over and over and OVER again!!!! I don’t think you’ll break my record, but you might come close! ENJOY everyone!

Jeff's picture

I Like This Review

One does not have to agree with a review to respect it. Why are these readers being so hateful toward Mr. Fagerholm? I thought Streisand fans were more open-minded. I happened to be on the set for two weeks during filming of this movie. Streisand had a lot to deal with; a costar who was almost constantly drunk; a director who wouldn’t speak up and help Streisand when she was trying to get a professional performance from her costar but couldn’t; a director who acted extremely unprofessional by screaming at Streisand (she would ask a valid question about blocking or camera position and Pierson could be heard, “Oh, what the fuck does she want now?” A boyfriend/producer (Jon Peters) who thought he had more talent in anything he did, more than Streisand. She was also dealing with the fact that she was so good in Funny Girl, nothing would ever top it and she knew it. The script was lousy, the music mediocre, the direction non-existent and yet it remains her most popular film of the 19 she has been in. I liked this review. No one forced me to agree with it.

Paul Ancheta's picture

Honest but not likeable

Critics create film reviews because they want to inform the reader. If the reviewer thinks the movie is bad, the reviewer must tell me how that conclusion was drawn. Mr. Fagerholm has failed to make me understand why he thinks the universally-acclaimed “Evergreen” is forgettable, for example. Is it in the context of the plot? Is it the technical aspect from the Blu-Ray perspective? Is it the way the Streisand character sings what may be a dull melody?

This may be an honest review, but it’s weak, poorly educative, and far from likeable.

Sandra Black's picture

Rubbish review!!

You wouldn’t know real talent if it smacked you between your eyes! You obviously need to go back to journalism school and learn how to write film reviews. That was a rubbish from beginning to end.

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