As the women’s movement progressed, women’s lives yielded much richer stories. By the 1980s, there was a much broader range of possibilities for female actresses. Some films showed their independence from men, others reminded audiences of the sometimes exploitative relationship between men and women. Yesterday’s review of “Gorillas in the Mist,” which documented the exciting life of Dian Fossey, showed a woman clearly able to carve out a satisfying adulthood without being constrained by a father, husband or a lover. Other films remind us that many women’s opportunities, while more expansive than in the past, were still yoked to male interests. That is particularly evident in “Star 80” from 1983.
“Star 80” tells the story the beautiful and voluptuous Dorothy Stratten (played Mariel Hemingway). The Dairy Queen waitress was living in Vancouver in the late 1970s when she met Paul Snider (played by Eric Roberts), a part-time pimp and hustler. Much to the dismay of Dorothy’s mom, they fall in love. Paul has nude pictures of Dorothy taken and sent to Playboy magazine. Eventually, she is flown to California and becomes a playmate, a quite popular one, even receiving notice as the best of the year. She starts getting work in films, and her star is on the rise. While her fame escalates, Paul’s fortunes disintegrate. While working on a movie, she falls in love with the director, Aram (played by Roger Rees). Dorothy goes back to Paul to tell him she wants a divorce, which drives the distraught Paul to kill Dorothy before committing suicide.
“Star 80” has a depressing storyline. Director Bob Fosse wisely does not shy away from the dark elements of the story. Dorothy, and young women like her, were easy prey for the Sniders and even the Hefners of the world.
Mariel Hemingway is excellent as Dorothy, who blossoms when she gets beyond her insular background. Eric Roberts is amazing as Paul. Although he is a sleazy person, he still loves Dorothy and is miserable when he starts losing her. Another good performance is by Cliff Robertson, who plays Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, who grooms Dorothy and endeavors to position her for a long career, a career that will not involve Paul.
Although it is grim, “Star 80” is worth watching for its interesting story of women who were encouraged by men to use their bodies for to achieve a kind of dubious success.