Here's another nominee in the increasingly crowded category of Most Unnecessary Remake: 1976's A Star Is Born, with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson picking over the bones of not one but three previous versions, most notably the 1954 musical epic starring Judy Garland and James Mason. It's a great story for sure, but this star turn for Streisand, which is hopelessly stuck in the bell-bottomed clichés of the '70s, hasn't aged well and isn't much fun to watch.
We first meet struggling singer Esther Hoffman (Streisand) as she performs a gig in an L.A. club backed up by two African-American women. Their name: The Oreos (groan). Into the club stumbles hirsute rock legend John Norman Howard (Kristofferson) on one of his daily benders. He loves her voice, she loves his... hair, I suppose... and soon, for no apparent reason, she's madly in love with him.
But John Norman ain't easy to love. An alcoholic and drug addict, he's surrounded by a gaggle of groupies and hangers-on who mainly serve to keep him drunk. Esther enters this world cautiously and clearly disapproves, but she's easily dazzled by John Norman's greatness, especially when he performs a spectacular outdoor show in Phoenix (his arrival by helicopter is one of those classic rock star moves). In his more lucid moments, John Howard helps Esther with her own career, finding her songs, producing her demos, and getting her name out there. Soon she's an up and comer, but, as the story goes, as her star rises, his starts to fall, and the dynamic of the relationship changes.
As John Howard sinks deeper into his addictions, Esther tries hard to mother him, even dragging him away from his lackeys for a romantic interlude in his desert cabin. In the background a Streisand soundtrack of uneven quality accompanies the action. Among the highlights: the Oscar-winning "Evergreen." ("Love... soft as an easy chair...")
By the time Esther reaches a career pinnacle, John Howard is out of control, even interrupting her Grammy acceptance speech when he stumbles on stage in a drunken stupor. He decides to leave, but he makes the very big mistake of doing so by driving away in a sports car while in a state of severe inebriation. Let's just say the outcome mirrors the outcomes in all the previous versions of the movie.
That leaves Streisand alone in the film's final minutes to cement her diva status with a memorable one-take, eight-minute solo in which she rages through her final number in front of a huge audience. The scene feels terribly tacked on, yet it's one of the most exciting moments in this overlong chronicle of John Howard's downward spiral. (In retrospect, it's a shame the famously frazzled Garland didn't try something similar in her version. That could have been very interesting.)
What's missing here is the love part of the love story. Throughout, the carefully coiffed Esther seems as concerned with her career as she does with John Howard, and frankly, the guy is anything but lovable. Despite the famously ardent movie poster (all that hair!), there are few real sparks between the two, and that spells disaster for a story that should be propelled forward by love, not careerism.
The DVD includes commentary from Streisand, deleted scenes (with commentary from Streisand), and wardrobe tests (they tested that poncho???) with commentary from... ah, you know.