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Talented rock star John Norman Howard has seen his career begin to decline. Too many years of concerts and managers and life on the road have made him cynical and the monotony has taken its toll. Then he meets the innocent, pure and very talented singer Esther Hoffman. As one of his songs in the movie says "I'm gonna take you girl, I'm gonna show you how." And he does. He shows Esther the way to stardom while forsaking his own career. As they fall in love, her success only makes his decline even more apparent. Written by
A. Lloyd Adams [firstname.lastname@example.org]
The third and least workable version of the classic Hollywood tale.
The anticipation for this musical film was huge. It seemed the perfect star vehicle for Barbra Streisand and she hadn't had a hit for almost three years ("The Way We Were"). Janet Gaynor and Judy Garland were superlative in their creations of the classic tale of the Hollywood couple -- one star on the rise, the other on the skids. Could Streisand put her own indelible mark on this material as well and reestablish herself as a triple-threat performer?
Nope. Not even close. This third version (actually fourth, if you include 1932's "What Price Hollywood" starring Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman) stalls early in the game by transposing the dramatic setting of Hollywood movie-making to the brash, uncouth pop/rock music scene... and it is only one of many fundamental mistakes this movie makes.
The rags-to-riches story of Esther Hoffman Howard ain't believable for one second. Streisand the struggling artist? She plays Barbra the hard-assed star from the very first scene, lacking the courage or ability to immerse herself into a fully-realized character. She brays and bullies from the onset, showing no emotional colors whatsoever in a performance bereft of weakness, vulnerability and, as a result, sympathy. Ironically, she played this part to perfection ten years before -- as Fanny Brice, the gawky chorus girl who became a Ziegfeld Follies legend. Well, somewhere in those ten years, is a big star who has forgotten how to laugh at herself.
Its been said that Elvis Presley was briefly considered for the part of John Norman Howard, the singer on the skids, but turned it down for fear of being upstage by Streisand. All the same, one wonders what "The King" might have done with a too-close-to-reality role like this. In the hands of Kris Kristofferson, he tosses in a performance so lackadaisical and careless that one wonders if he was sober at all during the film's shoot. They appear to be performing in two different movies. Neither one interesting.
The screenplay is hopeless trite and corny, fueling some of the most unintentionally funny scenes in recent memory. Streisand's fight scene with Kristofferson after she catches him in the sack with some chippy and her emotional cassette-ripping scene in the mansion after John Howard's death are just plain embarrassing. If she's such a perfectionist in real life, how did these two scenes ever get by the editor's scissors.
The one thing Streisand did right in this movie is the one thing she can never do wrong. Sing. Possessing arguably the finest vocal instrument known to man, she weaves absolute magic in her singing scenes, notably "Woman in the Moon" and especially her heart-breaking finale number, "Are You Watching Me Now." Here, and only here, does she seize an emotional connection to Esther that evaded her throughout the film.
Alas, it is not enough to save this film dud. But, if you must see this, I'd advise you to skip the acting scenes and fast-forward to each Streisand number. Better yet, buy the CD.
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