You may find this post controversial and I’ve made my peace with it. Some view this film as a classic and some hold it proudly in their Barbra Streisand shrine. However, I recently viewed this film and felt the need to post about it as there were just way too many elements that couldn’t be ignored.
Fact: this is the THIRD remake of this story (a fourth is slowly rolling around in development. You can read about it here).
Fact: this is the first movie I’ve blogged about on this site that’s both a Oscar and a Golden Globe winner for the song “Evergreen”.
Fact: I have long since made fun of the lyrics to the song “Evergreen” without realizing it was a) from this movie and b) a Barbra Streisand song. You can’t sing a lyric that compares love to a easy chair and not expect me to mock it.
So we meet John Howard Norman, a big rock star who’s late to everything, drinks a lot and has Gary Busey personally shove cocaine up his nose.
No one in this movie ever calls him just “John”. Its always “John Howard” or “John Howard Norman”. This may have been because the filmmakers felt that no one would accept a hero named John, leading to theater attendees storming out of the theaters in protest.
Fact: John Howard Norman never sings a whole complete song. He starts songs, then always interrupts and we as an audience have no idea why people even bother going to his shows to begin with.
Here’s what someone should have prepared me for. No one knows how to wear shirts in this movie. Shirts are really more of a suggestion or an opinion. So as a result, they’re maybe buttoned or worn halfway or in this case, Kris Kristofferson just forwent the shirt entirely and skipped to the vest. To each his own, I suppose.
After an evening of kind of singing parts of two songs, he leaves his own show and goes to a club where we’re introduced to Barbra Streisand aka “Esther Hoffman”.
She’s in a singing group that call themselves “The Oreos.” The less said about this, the better.
So they’re singing, and Barbra is being Barbra. However, every romance movie needs a “meet cute” and we get with this moment…
“John Howard Norman” (I guess we’ll follow the movie’s instructions to always call him this) gets into a shouting match with some bar customers and Barbra gets ticked and confronts him about it.
Now, lets put this situation in “real life” shall we? In movie life, Barbra sings at a club and she hears a drunk guy shouting and getting drunker. She confronts him, he’s charmed by it, chases her down and begs to date her. She kind of plays coy and allows him to bring a pizza to her house at 7am the next day.
In “real life”, Barbra would have finished her set, gone backstage, complained with the rest of The Oreos (sigh). Had “John Howard Norman” come slurring her way, a bouncer would have steered him to his car and he would have woken up ten hours later not remembering anything. Roll credits!
But they have breakfast and are super cutesy about eating pizza and him guzzling down a whiskey and a few more beers for breakfast, so he invites her to come to his show.
Another show where he starts a song, mumbles through it, then goes and finds Barbra…
…sings from a vantage point where no one can see him…
…takes a fan’s motorcycle (which begs the question, do people still bring a motorcycle inside arenas? Also, where can I get the “I’m Spoiled Rotten” shirt?)
…and this inevitably happens…
…where you know, everyone’s going to have to file back out and spend three hours in their cars wondering what on earth they just saw.
Meanwhile, “John Howard Norman” gets put in an ambulance, everyone takes off, leaving Barbra stranded at a arena.
In “real life”, Esther Hoffman would have been angry and annoyed, spent hundreds of dollars on an Uber getting back to her house and written an interesting op-ed piece to Rolling Stone on what a tool John Howard Norman is.
Instead, she finds it cute that he stalked her at a studio and follows him home to his house where they make sweet music together…
…and then sweet, sweet love.
So many beer cans in this scene.
Naturally, he brings her into the studio and she sings whole and complete songs, which blows everyone away. He realizes that she is a unicorn and they make glorious creative plans.
He does yet another show, where he starts to sing a song and people are into it, but he stops barely into the first chorus and goes, “Hey guys, you paid to see me, but you’ll be fine letting my girlfriend of two days taking over, right?”
So Barbra comes out in an outfit that makes her look like she’s about to do everyone’s taxes and performs two whole songs. Turns out the crowd loves it when you come out and do a song that has a beginning, middle and end. They go nuts and officially, “a star is born.”
In the frenzy of the show, Barbra proposes to “John Howard Norman”. JHN gives her a very solid reason why this is a terrible decision. Namely that he’s an awful person who’s life is a total mess. Never mind, she knows what she wants and thats that.
The movie clearly has very little to do between now and JHN’s inevitable death (spoiler alert) so it does that thing that only bad movies do…there’s a montage. And it has everything that a ’70s love montage needs…
Picture perfect moments in the middle of nowhere. This is always followed by sex in the most uncomfortable setting imaginable.
Being silly in the middle of nowhere. This movie was made by Warner Bros who also holds the rights to Superman which I guess makes this scene okay.
Wearing Indian blankets as if that counts as clothes. (Fact: It does not)
Enjoying your ’70s house with more rugs.
Maybe one of you fakes your death?
And at the end of a long day of holding each other and staring into each other’s eyes, you recline on pillows that vaguely look like Swastikas.
At some point, you have to come back to reality. After all, Esther is a big star now (sure, its been a week maybe) and JHN is dealing with the fact that his career is over. Now this movie gets it into gear.
People are really digging her. She’s up for a Grammy! She shows up to her shows! She finishes songs! She wears shirts!
Speaking of which, she wins a Grammy for Best Female Vocal. She insists JHN go up with her, despite the fact that he almost didn’t make it and that he’s super trashed. No, no, no, she drags him up there where he slurs something about art, all while Tony Orlando and Rita Coolidge seem horrified.
And, this movie dares to wave its codependency flag again, when Esther goes to calm down in the bathroom and is followed by JHN.
He makes another really good case for why this marriage isn’t going to work out, but she won’t have it.
This movie is begging for the opening credits to Intervention to come on at any moment. I would have fully welcomed it.
During a photo shoot, he tells her that she’ll have to tour on her own. She’s horrified.
He doesn’t show up for things when she needs him to, but instead of processing the links between addiction and unhealthy relationships, she puts on more drapey clothes and wonders why as she literally stares at empty glass vessels that used to hold alcohol.
While she’s gone however, a sexy journalist breaks into their home and begs for an interview with Esther. She’ll do anything.
And he obliges.
Of course they’re caught. The journalist gets huffy and walks out, while Esther thinks things over and has this reaction to the whole situation…
Frankly, at this point, I won’t blame his addiction, I’ll just blame the ’70s. Neither of them are clearly ever going to learn anything at this point.
So the universe takes over. He gets up early, drinks a lot of beer and has a fatal accident.
And Esther gives the performance of a lifetime where she cries and hopes he’s looking down on her. I’d cry too, but then I remembered he was a reckless and selfish alcoholic who possessed really bad judgement. The good news is that she got a career out of it and the rest of The Oreos had to find another white lady to lead them.
PERFORMANCE OF A LIFETIME.
Should you care to delve deeper into this, you can watch this movie on Amazon, HBO GO or in physical disc form from Netflix.