Movie Review: Star 80 (1983)
Star 80 (1983)
Director: Bob fosse
Cast: Mariel Hemingway, Eric Roberts, Cliff Robertson
Synopsis: A successful young model finds trouble when her obsessive manager-turned-husband becomes dangerously jealous. Based on the true story of 1980 Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten.
Of all the reasons for having a movie made about your life, being a murder victim has to be the worst. And to be nothing more than a supporting player in your story is almost unthinkable, but that’s what happens to the beautiful Dorothy Stratten in Star 80, Bob Fosse’s final movie, made four years before his death in 1987. Having embarked on a screen career following her selection as Playboy Playmate of the Year in 1980, Dorothy was probably justified in believing she had a reasonably bright future ahead of her, but that future was cut short when she was brutally murdered by her husband, Paul Snider. Played by Mariel Hemingway (Manhattan), a beauty whose alluring air of innocence is marred somewhat by a blank-faced lack of acting ability, Stratten comes across as a pretty puppet incapable of meaningful movement without a man to pull her strings. The leading role in her life is reserved for Paul Snider (Eric Roberts – The Dark Knight), the small-time hustler who became her husband, and whose love for her turned into possessive jealousy when their relationship began to sour. While his hold over Dorothy is loosened by the almost comically avuncular Hugh Hefner (Cliff Robertson – Three Days of the Condor, 13th Child), it is completely wrested from him by movie director Aram Nicholas (Roger Rees – 3 A. M., The Prestige) – a thinly-veiled depiction of real-life director Peter Bogdanovich – with whom she has an affair.
Snider’s the kind of man who rehearses saying hello to strangers in front of a mirror and then, having done so to his satisfaction, embarks on a tirade of contained fury aimed at those he is seeking to impress. His is an existence of exclusion – from the life he feels he deserves, from the circle who enjoy that life, from the respect it brings, from the one break that would turn things around for him. He’s quick to realise the potential of the innocent girl-next-door type he finds waitressing at a Dairy Queen in Vancouver, though. The disapproval of her mother (1960s screen siren, Carroll Baker – Bridge to the Sun), who sees, with a mature woman’s eyes, what her daughter cannot, proves no barrier to Snider, who even finds a way to bypass her objections when he obtains an interview for Dorothy at the Playboy mansion. However, his success in setting Dorothy on the road to fame marks the beginning of the end for their relationship…
Snider might not be a particularly likeable man, but he’s a compellingly watchable one, thanks to a committed performance from Eric Roberts which gives no clue to the Z-grade career that awaited him. Snider’s a low-life, but he’s a complex low-life whose emotions are in a constant state of turmoil because of his conflicting desires. We never doubt that his love for Dorothy is genuine, if a little twisted, but he’s incapable of seeing that he can’t have both her and the fast-car lifestyle that he craves. Roberts’ performance surpasses director Bob Fosse’s pedestrian script, which faithfully records the events leading up to Dorothy’s death without ever really giving us insight to any character other than Snider. Everyone else in Star 80 is simply defined by their reaction to Snider’s words or actions, and Dorothy is nothing but a blank canvas throughout, parroting the words taught to her by publicists, or adopting nude poses on the instructions of a photographer. Every now and then she mildly voices an opinion which is effortlessly dismissed by others, and her innocence too often comes across as stupidity (“Oh, Paul doesn’t wear those clothes anymore,” she informs Hef when he explains that her husband has “the personality of a pimp.”). In fact, Dorothy has so little personality that we simply don’t feel the outrage, or the sense of tragedy that we should when her life is brought to a violently abrupt end.
(Reviewed 12th April 2016)
Click below for a free preview of the Kindle book, The Films of Bob Fosse. The book, written by the author of this review, features reviews of all of the actor’s films, and is available to buy, or to read for free if you’re a member of Kindle Unlimited. You don’t need a Kindle reader – Amazon’s Kindle app works on most popular devices and can be downloaded for free from their site.