There is, to begin with, no denying Barbra Streisand's enormous talent. At the end of "A Star Is Born" the camera stays on her for one unbroken shot of seven or eight minutes, and she sings her heart out, and we concede that she's one of the great stars of the movies, one of the elemental presences. But how does she choose her material? And what possessed her to make "A Star Is Born"?
There's just no way, after all the times we've seen Streisand and all the ways she's imprinted herself on our minds and tastes, for us to accept her as a kid on the way up, as an unknown who hitches her destiny to a star. Even in her first rags-to-riches movie, even in "Funny Girl," we knew and she knew that she was Barbra Streisand. I guess in "A Star Is Born" we're supposed to forget that. Fine; we could try if she'd let us.
She plays a character totally out of touch with contemporary reality. She's supposed to be an obscure club singer sweating out a living, and Kris Kristofferson is supposed to be the rock superstar who falls in love with her. And then we know the story from all the other times it's been filmed: She zooms to the top, he plummets to the bottom, and they pass in mid-career, he with bottle in hand and (this time) cocaine in nose.
We can believe Kristofferson (he didn't exactly have to stay up nights preparing for this role). But we can't believe her. The first time we see her, she's in a little club that's supposed to be maybe like the Earl of Old Town, or the Troubadour in Los Angeles. But what's she doing? A slick Las Vegas lounge act. She's got lots of plastic songs, and she's flanked by two black backup singers who look like would-be Supremes. They're called the Oreos. Get it? I wish I hadn't. This act with this material would be laughed out of every semi-authentic club in the country, even if Miss Streisand was the lead singer.