US Release Date: 06-22-1979
Directed by: Howard Zieff
- Barbra Streisand, as
- Hillary Kramer
- Ryan O'Neal, as
- Eddie "Kid Natural" Scanlon
- Paul Sand, as
- Whitman Mayo, as
- Patti D'Arbanville, as
- Chu Chu Malave, as
- Richard Lawson, as
- Hector Mantilla
- James Gregory as
Great comedy team, not so great movie.
Scene for scene The Main Event is probably the worst movie of Barbra Streisand’s career. This was the second time she starred opposite Ryan O’Neal. The first was 1972’s What’s Up, Doc?, a vastly superior movie. There are some laughs in this boxing comedy, but Streisand’s Hillary Kramer makes no sense as a character and the ending is ridiculous.
Streisand is a business woman, known in the industry as “The Nose”, running a perfume company. She is successful and intelligent. That is until her business manager embezzles all her money and runs off to South America. She is left with only one asset. A has-been boxer that her former business manager was using as a tax shelter. Hillary’s response to this is, “Why couldn’t I own something that doesn’t eat?” Of course the has-been boxer must now return to the ring with Hillary as his manager.
Whenever Hillary gets near the ring her IQ drops by about 50 points and she begins acting like Judy Holliday. In one scene she is reading a ‘how to’ book on boxing to Kid Natural (O’Neal) while he is sparring in the ring. She reads something about footwork and then says, “I think that means kick him.” This pretty much sums up the level of humor here. Clearly Streisand wanted her cake and to eat it to. She wanted to be a strong feminist protagonist (see the scene the morning after Hillary and The Kid have sex) but also a sexy dumb broad that gets the laughs.
This movie screams 1979; from the opening aerobics scene with Barbra in her thigh high legwarmers to the disco title song she sings over the end credits. And the ending is so stupid. The Kid is winning the big rematch against his archrival. Hillary is afraid that once the fight is over she will lose him, so what does she do? Yep, she throws in the towel. Cue theme music.
The Main Event was the end of an era for Streisand. She ended the 1970’s as the top female box office star of the decade. This was her 11th movie in 11 years. In the 30 years since she has appeared in only 6 movies. Oh the wasted possibilities!
A boxer with a sensitive side and a Ceo with more ass than brains.
The Main Event starts strong with Barbra making some self deprecating jokes about the size of her nose, and being frustrated with her secretary. O’Neal’s low class girlfriend, “Does she always smell like a rose?” is worth a laugh.
Barbra, or the director, seem to think her best asset is her ass, as it gets put on display several times. In one scene she bends over right in front of O’Neal and then acts surprised that he looks. Although not a beautiful woman, Streisand had a decent body here.
Speaking of her charms. The one scene that always bugs me was when she is forced to spend the night in a cabin full of men. Everyone is in their own beds, bundled up because it has snowed outside. However, the mere presence of Streisand is too much for the men. One guy gets so horny by the idea of her being there that he says he can’t take it anymore and makes a move toward her bed, before being shoved outside by some other guys. If a little perfume is all it takes to make that guy uncontrollably horny, he must have raped an awful lot of women in his time. Had Raquel Welch played the role in a negligee, I might have bought the joke, but as it is, it comes across more as an insult to men.
Another odd scene is the morning after they have sex. Streisand is in the sexual stereotypical male role of loving then leaving after sex, while O’Neal is in the stereotypical woman’s role of falling in love afterwards. It is not a lousy scene, it just belongs in a different movie. If Eddie was a 17 year old having his first sexual experience, I would have bought it, as it is played here, it just seems like a 1970s feminist statement.
The only thing worse than The Main Event's script is Barbra Streisand's 1970s hairstyle in it.
When I read your reviews I thought that both of you, Eric and Patrick, were being harsh on this movie because I remembered liking it when I was much younger. Then I actually rewatched it for the first time in probably 20 years and realized that instead you both might have been too kind towards it. This really is horrible. I'm struggling to remember what it is I liked about it!
I think you summed up one of the story's biggest problems Patrick when you say that Streisand wanted to play a funny ditz and a strong feminist at the same time. Her character is a mass of contradictions that make no sense. One minute she's dumb as a box of rocks and the next she seems smart and confident. I have no proof, but I wonder if Streisand didn't rewrite the script to make her character stronger (at the expense of the movie)?
Scenes like where Hilary gets in the boxing ring with Eddie and then punches him, knocking him to the ground, for instance, and then asking the photographers to take a picture of that, just seem silly. Is that really the best way to promote your fighter? Showing him knocked out by his female manager? And the morning after scene where Hilary plays the more traditional male role would be fine if it didn't pretty much change everything about Eddie's character in the process. I mean, Eddie comes across as a love 'em and leave 'em kind of guy up until then and we're suddenly supposed to believe that he thinks because they've had sex they must get married now?
Likewise Patrick, I agree with you that the final scene makes no sense. Throwing in the towel and subsequently losing all of their (and their investor's money) is ridiculous. Are we really supposed to believe that if Eddie won the fight she'd never see him again? Wouldn't he have been happier if he'd won the girl and the fight?
And clearly this script was written for a much more attractive woman than Barbra Streisand! Nearly every man she meets here practically drools all over her and one, as Eric mentioned, can barely restrain himself from trying to rape her simply because he can smell her perfume! I mean, sure her ass is alright, but if I was describing to her a friend that was about to go on a blind date with her, I'd be talking about her nice personality and not her looks.
To be fair there are some funny moments. Eddie's story to Hilary about how he killed a man in the ring is funny and supporting actress Patti D'Arbanville as Eddie's high-class girlfriend generates a few chuckles, but overall the humor just isn't enough to cover the movie's other problems.
Maybe it's because Barbra was so successful and popular when this movie was made that it suffers so badly. Perhaps she was given so much power on the set that no one could say no to her. Whatever the case, I'm forced to agree with you Patrick that this is definitely one of her worst films.
Photos © Copyright Warner Bros. Pictures (1979)