The Main Event

May I direct your attention to my snatch?
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1979
Director: 
Howard Zieff
Starring: 
Barbra Streisand, Ryan O’Neal, Paul Sand, Whitman Mayo, Patti D’Uberville
The Setup: 
Woman played by Barbra Streisand loses everything except her contract for a boxer.
Discussion: 

I bought this on VHS for $1 at a garage sale, and started watching it one night. I felt a little guilty, as I didn’t wait for my viewing partner who usually joins me for such movies [like Norman, Is That You?, Two of a Kind, etc.], and I knew he would want to see it. But within five minutes, after we’ve already packed in a few tasteless jokes about Barbra’s nose and then seen her aerobicize and looked straight up her cooze, I knew I had to turn it right off and wait for him, which I did. It was a wise decision, as we ultimately needed to experience this together.

First, some crucial, context-setting history. Jon Peters was this hairdresser, supposedly the model for Warren Beatty’s character in Shampoo. He made a wig for Barbra in For Pete’s Sake, and somehow she and he started getting it on. He produced her Butterfly album, although he had no producing experience, and he became her partner in romance as well as movie production, and was responsible for A Star is Born and this movie, and went on to have a legendary movie producing career. One gets the sense that he let Barbra call a lot of the shots, and as a couple they would produce their own projects, and I get the sense that apart from what a cutie Peters was, he let her have a lot of power to control every aspect of the production. What they produced is yet more evidence that stars and their significant others should not be given free reign to develop projects around what they THINK their most appealing traits are [see the oeuvre of Geena Davis and Renny Harlin]. There’s an interesting brief biography of Peters here. You have to love any bio that begins: “Scion of a Neapolitan hairdressing clan…”

Anyway, I say all of this as background to exactly HOW misguided this movie is and in WHAT particular way. We open with a shot of a bottle, and all this talk about how “they’ll have to cut it to put it on the street” that is supposed to make it sound like we’re talking about some illegal drug. We a sample of it passed for smelling, passing from nose to nose, until we arrive at Barbra’s nose, presented in loving profile. A few seconds later someone says “They don’t call you the nose for nothing.” I think we can locate this content in the “Barbra can laugh at herself!” file. Barbra, as perfume executive Hillary Kramer, has invented a perfume that mixes both male and female scents, and causes her to feel like “there’s an orgy going on inside my nose.”

We then go to Barbra’s aerobics class. One learns from the “scene-specific commentary” that the aerobics instructor WAS Barbra’s instructor, and that Jane Fonda was also in her class, before starting making tapes herself. I had no idea that this film was so influential on Perfect, but here we have a little mini-Perfect pelvic thrusting scene, and Barbra even says she was in her “Pelvic Press” class, so I guess such things do exist. But what’s really incredible to me is that while the name Jon Peters, Barbra’s boyfriend at the time, is on screen, we are STARING DIRECTLY UP HER SNATCH [right]. Isn’t that a little tasteless? She then sees Paul Sand [of Can’t Stop the Music fame] come in [we get a shot through her legs], and he talks directly into her pussy. I guess we can file all this under “Barbra has a raunchy sense of humor, too!” She soon finds out that her former manager or whoever has run off with all her money, leaving her with nothing but the deed to some boxer named “Kid Natural.” We also see Barbra behaving as a monstrous Jewish stereotype who barks orders, absolutely refuses to listen to or make time for anyone other than herself, and refuses to acknowledge that she is actually irritating, and not just “difficult but adorable.” We will come back to this, as the movie directly integrates Barbra’s abrasiveness into the storyline, in a sort of ‘file under “Barbra confronts charges that she is difficult!” kind of way. As you can tell so far, there’s not much here that seems like actual movie, but a lot that feels like Barbra Image Management.

Anyway, so Barbra goes to the gym where she expects to meet this boxer. Here we have part one of the EXTENSIVE “Black men want to FUCK Barbra Streisand” content, as many, many black men leer and whistle at Barbra. She is confronted with one in the nude, and he directs her toward a group of more black men, all of whom are again swept away by Barbra’s hot sensuality. One of them even claims to be her boxer simply in order to get some play. I’ll bet you didn’t know that Barbra Streisand was an object of tongue-lolling lust in the African-American community. I certainly didn’t, but you know, it just shows yet another dimension of this multi-talented personality.

Well, turns out that Kid Natural [aka Eddie] is the one white guy at the gym, 'cause you see, blacks are down with Ryan O’Neal, too! The attempt to garner ‘authenticity’ by portraying our two leads as hangin’ with the blacks is… well it’s kind of racist, isn’t it? Anyway, Eddie refuses to fight, and apparently his contract doesn’t stipulate it. I don’t understand the specifics of this contract, nor what happened to all her money [if her manager STOLE it, uh, couldn’t she set the cops on him?], but no matter. What we DO see in this scene is that she and O’Neal DO have chemistry, and convey a natural attraction for one another which really comes through. Neither of them can act in any way, but they do have chemistry. There’s another scene where Eddie again refuses to fight, wherein Barbra famously smokes a cigarette. She and Eddie have a fight, and when it’s over, she mysteriously has a cracker in her hand, that she takes a bite of. I wish that I, too, could transform cigarettes into crackers and back again. That seems like a useful skill.

But romance is beginning to develop. At one point Barbra says to Ryan: “You live in a glove. I just wear them.” We then go into a training montage, and at the end we have one of the first actual boxing matches. Ryan is getting pummeled left and right, until it’s time for a break, wherein he discovers that Barbra has taken his stool for herself. She makes him so angry with her general Barbra-ness that he goes back to the match and takes his aggressions out on his opponent, and makes a spectacular comeback—until Barbra ruins it by entering the ring while the fight is on. I didn’t know this, but this automatically forfeits the match, and Ryan loses, even though he was winning. This happened because Barbra HAD to have his attention to tell him that she was putting HIS STOOL back, and didn’t matter to her that he was FIGHTING at the end of a boxing match. Of course Barbra doesn’t take any real responsibility for anything, and is supposed to be considered zany and adorable when doing things that would make anyone want to bash her skull to a meaty pulp.

They then go off to some wintery, woody clime to train. It’s all male boxers, and Barbra. Once more we have content—a LOT of content—about how all the black boxers are just desperate to fuck Barbra, even standing by her bed and just staring at her, or finally running out to sleep in another room because her perfume is driving them crazy. Perhaps this is because, earlier and while at dinner, Barbra is wearing this extremely strange pink head enclosure. I was trying to think, WHAT does she look like? And finally it occurred to me: a clitoris. Barbra’s entire head looks like a giant, hooded clitoris with a face on it.

So Barbra gets in bed with Ryan to sleep, then starts relentlessly wheedling him to have sex with her, telling him that he probably gets really turned on sleeping next to her and so on. She finally succeeds and they have sex. My friend who was with me said “so are we to understand that they HAVEN’T slept with each other til then?” and I guess not, though it sure did seem like it.

SPOILERS > > >
So it’s time for the big fight, which is with the guy from long before the movie started that marked the end of Ryan’s career. There is some tepid fight before the match, making Barbra feel like if Ryan wins, she’ll never see him again, because then he’ll be a big-time boxer. So she’s trying to get his attention again, right during the middle of a match, because she needs to tell him that she loves him. RIGHT NOW. So she throws in the towel, thus forfeiting the match and making him lose, AGAIN. At this point I was thinking “Good GOD, how long is this going to go ON?” [it already seems as though every scene has been extended about five minutes too long], but that’s actually the end. She tells him she loves him and he loves her too, and she’s just so gosh-darn adorable that he doesn’t care that she just ruined his career for the foreseeable future.
< < < SPOILERS END

Ugh, where should we start? We have to assume that Barbra had her hand in virtually every aspect of the production, so we have to assume that it was HER and Jon Peters behind her relentless sexualization in this movie. It left kind of a distasteful impression exactly how much of the film was devoted to ogling her in skimpy outfits, hearing her deliver sensual racy talk, or conveying EXACTLY how much black men want to fuck Barbra Streisand [and do black men REALLY want to fuck Barbra Streisand?]. Why would she do this to herself? It’s a little embarrassing and more than a little wearying. If you’re gay [and hello, you are reading the review for The Main Event], it’s a little like that guy who comes to the party in the muscle shirt, the tight jeans, the cockring on underneath, with the short hair and the armband tattoo and the boots and he keeps making sexual double entendres and you’re like “OKAY dude, you’re hot, you have lots of sex, okay? We FUCKING GET IT.” Only he has something to prove, and Barbra Streisand doesn’t. Or at least, she shouldn’t.

The other thing impossible to miss is the glamour lighting. There are innumerable glamour shots of Barbra, ALL of them featuring a strong backlight that makes her QUITE ill-advised perm look like a glowing halo of fire. On the ‘making of’ piece included on the disc—made at the time of the movie’s release—people gush ecstatically about how Barbra really knows her lighting, including this quote: “Barbra knows a lot about light… she can FEEL light.” She can feel light? Doesn’t that make her some kind of superhero or X-Man or something? Should't she be fighting crime with her heightened, light-feeling abilities? It’s hard not to believe that someone on her staff wasn’t trying to get a snarky little dig in by including footage of Barbra saying: “I love my backlights.”

Then there’s the big issue of how annoying Barbra is in this movie. As I said, she is THE stereotype of the hyper-irritating, talky, bossy Jew, which I think is what the movie was trying to gamely confront, but this is never tempered with the understanding that she is genuinely annoying, does and says things that are truly offensive, and that people really have very good reasons to hate her. Not to mention that she truly hurts people and messes up a lot of things for them, and that this is her responsibility. In this movie it is all presented as though sure she’s annoying, but you gotta love her, right? So, like everything else here, it’s a loaded argument, weighted to come down on Barbra’s side, and after a while it can start to annoy. But it doesn’t get annoying because the whole of the movie is such a piece of brand management anyway.

And since the whole enterprise is such a promotional piece, the story, such as it is, has no effect whatsoever. You really just feel like you’re being dragged through this arbitrary story because movies have to have stories. This is fine, but if you're gonna do that, make the movie shorter, just as a favor to us. Many of the scenes drag on or seem unnecessary. Many of the plot points don‘t really make sense or seem truly motivated. But a lot of this is saved by the fact that Streisand and O’Neal really do have chemistry and really do seem quite hot each other. Oh, and one last thing: there are so many out-there outfits and expressions and sets… I really had trouble narrowing it down for this review. You could totally make a compelling photo essay from stills from this movie.

Oh, and, as we find out from the commentary and making of, Barbra considers this film to have content relevant to feminism and the “battle of the sexes.”

Should you watch it: 

Yes, it was fun to watch, and of course we all like to see Barbra embarrass herself.