If this movie?s title was "A Star Slowly Dies," I would have probably given the film a better rating because the parts about Norman Maine were far better than the parts about Esther Blodgett.
The central problem with the movie is that there is NO evidence that Blodgett became a star because of her talent. In the 1954 movie, James Mason?s Maine is blown away by the singing ability of Judy Garland?s Blodgett. In this version, Fredric March?s Maine makes Janet Gaynor?s Blodgett a star because he wants to get her into the sack. I?m not making this up.
The start of "Star" sets us up for an Horatio Alger story ? an ordinary woman who takes a huge gamble to become an actress despite most of her family?s wishes. I waited for a scintilla of evidence that Blodgett had any acting ability or experience. Did she act in a community theatre? Why did she think she could be an actress? These questions, and others, are never answered.
Blodgett?s story is supposed to be inspirational. Instead, it is depressing. After moving to Hollywood, she gets a job as a waitress at a gathering of entertainers. There, Maine, a huge star, meets her and finds her really hot. Subsequently, he dates her and then gets her a screen test and a co-starring role in his next movie although he?s never seen her perform.
This narrative is depressing because she became a star as a result of Maine objectifying her, and a plain-looking woman with talent would have failed.
In a good story, the writers would have shown us that Blodgett was a great actress. Instead, we?re just told that she is. We?re shown approximately 10 seconds of her first movie, and she spends most of that time kissing Maine. But, we do hear critics lavishly praise her. By contrast, the 1954 version SHOWS us that Blodgett/Garland is a terrific singer.
As I watched the first half of the movie, I was tempted to label it a failure. However, it gets much stronger in the second half as it focuses less on Blodgett and more on Maine. Once a star, he declines as she rises. His alcohol-fueled psychological breakdown riveted me.
In short, Maine?s breakdown was portrayed far better than Blodgett?s rise. The movie also has an interesting, sardonic take on the phoniness of the movie industry and how it treats even its stars with a total lack of respect.
Interestingly, one of the problems with the 1937 version of "Star" is that it is too short while the 1954 one is far too long. This is partly because the 1954 movie is a musical while this one is not. This version should have spent more time developing its characters.
I gave "Star Is Born" a 6, balancing the 4 that I gave Blodgett?s story with the 8 that I gave Maine?s story.