Funny Girl (1968)
Funny Girl (1968)

Genre: Romantic Drama and Musical Running Time: 2 hrs. 31 min.

Release Date: September 19th, 1968 MPAA Rating: G

Director: William Wyler Actors: Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif, Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Kay Medford, Mae Questel, Lee Allen

 


 

A

t the New Amsterdam Theatre, where Fanny Brice’s name highlights the marquee of the Ziegfeld Follies, Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand) herself strolls into the empty auditorium to tinker at the piano onstage. As she wanders across the aisles, reminiscing about how she got to this point in her life, an assistant momentarily interrupts to inform her that Ziegfeld is waiting for his leading lady. This segues to a flashback, in which Brice dreams of stardom, despite negative feedback from the women at her residence (a saloon her mother owns). “If a girl isn’t pretty … all she gets from life is pity.”

Fanny’s start is at Keeney’s (Frank Faylen) Oriental Palace, featuring eight beautiful girls, though she’s not enough of a looker to win over the managers, resulting in an abrupt firing. From her home to the dance hall, characters shift from spoken conversations to full-blown songs, initially without much pizzazz or props or costumes (Streisand’s first tune is a solo to a single, unseen viewer). But this soon changes, resulting in an amusing comic number in which Fanny fails spectacularly at roller skating in a bright purple skirt with oversized bow and frilly hat, dragging her fellow performers down with her. Nevertheless, it’s something of a big break, as her clumsiness is welcomed with applause, lending to an impromptu encore for a song – which is her real talent. “I just gotta get on the stage, somehow.”

To complicate matters, the suave, sophisticated, and successful Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif) crosses Fanny’s path, giving her someone to swoon over for around six months, before her next big break on the rise to show biz prominence. The one and only Florenz Ziegfeld (Walter Pidgeon) offers her an audition, which she nails, though the lyrics of the finale clash with her personal sensibilities, as she’s uncomfortable proclaiming that she’s “the most beautiful bride in the world.” But if she wants to be a star, she’ll have to do as she’s told … or attempt to get away with as much as possible without losing her career, transforming her stage presence into something between glamor and humor, a realm in which she’s far more at ease.

Although the film is a loose biography, as well as a romantic comedy-drama, it’s primarily a vehicle for Streisand’s pipes; here, she comes across as if making a biography about herself rather than that of a turn-of-the-century comedienne. After all, her various interactions with friends and family are punctuated with additional songs, setting the mood marginally more than propelling a plot. Brice’s ascendance isn’t riddled with conflict as much as opportunities to express emotions through bouts of crooning, and the time period rarely has a specific impact on her tale.

The love story grows ever more significant, considering that Arnstein insists upon never having definite plans, so as not to feel tied down, leaving Fanny for lengthy spells without contact. She’s understandably upset when he casually reappears, though she’s unable to dismiss his magnetism. In rare moments, their flirtations are sincere and serious, but they frequently transition into either musical numbers or comedic skits, making their transient potency fade into the background. Even his work as a professional gambler – a movie vocation typically fraught with danger and bad decisions – is immaterial enough to seldom interfere with their love life.

Though the premise isn’t particularly original or memorable (a sometimes rocky relationship amid a sparkling theater career, with difficult-to-dismiss similarities to “A Star is Born”), Streisand’s turn is incredibly fitting, approaching the intermission with an absolute showstopper: “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” It’s actually such a climactic sequence that it’s unable to be topped by the time the conclusion comes around. Events turn only mildly gloomier during the second half (a hint of jealousy dampens Nick’s ability to be supportive, as financial and personal successes reshape statuses), but that doesn’t slow down the musical interludes. Ultimately, Nick’s struggle with being a breadwinner becomes the major conflict; Fanny’s renown is never in doubt. In the end, of course, the film is entirely Streisand’s; what the other players do is largely insignificant compared to her singing – demonstrated exceptionally well with the closing number.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10