Star 80 (1983)

star 80

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He kills his girlfriend

This film looks at the life of Dorothy Stratten (Mariel Hemighway) a teen from Vancouver who with the enticement of her controlling boyfriend Paul Snider (Eric Roberts) came to Hollywood to be a Playboy model. Soon she became a centerfold and budding film actress, but her boyfriend felt left behind and his ensuing jealousy lead to tragic results.

The film takes for granted that you know the story, which is based on fact and has shots from the final tragic scene sprinkled throughout. It was considered quite ‘topical’ and even in vogue at the time and yet for those born later this really won’t have much impact or significance. Stratten was just a young naive girl who got in over-her-head and her husband/manager was much the same way. For today’s audiences Stratten’s cult status has diminished significantly and probably should.

The plot has a sort of excruciating affect because we know what is going to happen and therefore sitting and watching it unfold seems almost tantamount to self-inflicted pain. The conclusion is intense, but leaves you feeling flat afterwards. There seems no reason to have made this film except for the sake of cashing in on its sleazy and provocative elements.

Director Bob Fosse creates a nice look for the movie with shades of soft lighting much like ones used for a photo shoot, which helps give it a distinctive quality.  However his direction is too manipulative and heavy-handed. It is structured like a documentary featuring talking head segments of supporting characters describing their take on the situation. These are spliced in throughout and really hurt the flow of the story and do not seem genuine. If they were going to take this route then they might as well have made it into an actual documentary and used the real people involved.

The two main characters are underwritten and overplayed. Hemingway has a cute young girl voice and her excited inflections are a nice addition to the character. However, her character is too sweet and naive almost to a Chrissy Snow-type extreme. She is also unable to stand up for herself at any time and it is hard for the viewer to sympathize with someone who can never help themselves.

Her boyfriend is just as bad in the opposite way. He is like the son-in-law from hell who wears suits that are so loud even your average pimp wouldn’t be seen in them. Roberts does give a good performance and supplies the film with a lot of its energy. This may be his best work and the film should be viewed for his presence only especially since it emphasizes him over Stratten anyways.

Cliff Robertson seems an odd choice to play Playboy founder Hugh Hefner as he doesn’t resemble him at all and never effectively creates his persona. The fictionalized character of director Peter Bogdanovich is no good either. He was supposedly the man who broke her away from the clutches of her boyfriend and gave her some independence. Yet here he seems just as creepy and controlling. Carroll Baker does the best of the supporting players as Dorothy’s mother a woman who can easily see through the man that her daughter can’t and at 52 she was really looking super.

In the end this film becomes as empty as the characters it is portraying. Even fans of the sleazy side of Hollywood will be disappointed. The disclaimer admits to being only a fictionalized account and therefore puts into question how fair or accurate any of it really is.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 10, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Fosse

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD

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