- Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice
- Omar Sharif as Nick Arnstein
- Kay Medford as Rose Brice
- Walter Pidgeon as Florenz Ziegfeld
A colourful and well mounted movie version of the hit play, itself loosely based on the life of comedienne Fanny Brice, Funny Girl launched Barbra Streisand to movie stardom in her debut role( which garnered her an Oscar.) It’s a wonderful showcase for her and despite a lengthy running time, has more than enough virtues, wonderful music and moments of excellence to entrance.
It is the early part of the 20th Century and in New York, Fanny Brice is Jewish girl of modest means but massive dreams to be a star. No matter who tells her that her nose is too big or her legs are too skinny, Fanny strives to attain life on stage with all she’s got. Initially she starts as a bit player on the vaudeville stage, where her lack of classical beauty and awkward movements stand out a lot, but her determination perseveres. Thankfully, during one particular show, her coltish mien and clumsy mannerisms actually endear her to the audience, and she is a resounding hit. Around this time, she also encounters the dashing gambler and businessman Nick Arnstein, who will play an important role in her life in the years to come. With her act growing more popular, she is shocked and excited when she is hired by the legendary Impresario Florenz Ziegfeld. Fanny can’t believe her luck at being given the opportunity to become a big star as a Ziegfeld girl. Yet with her comedic timing and need to be funny, she at first rubs Ziegfeld up the wrong way. Later, she takes to stage and re-invents a number in her own cheeky way. Ziegfeld is perturbed but seeing how talented she is, encourages her comedienne act. The attention then turns back to Fanny’s relationship with Nick Arnstein, who sweeps her off her feet after years of brief encounters, resulting in marriage. Passionately in love with Nick, Fanny leaves the Follies to concentrate on her love. Yet the ensuing years reveal cracks in their union as Nick becomes resentful of his run of bad luck and Fanny’s continued success. Getting back into performing yet slowly growing unhappy with events, Fanny sees that life is not always as funny as her act.
William Wyler, a most experienced and versatile director, ably and admirably directs Funny Girl; finely judging the funny and light first half and the later bittersweet and dramatic stages. Wyler finds both happiness and sadness in the tale of Fanny Brice, while allowing the production and acting take the biggest chunk of the pie. Superb production design and simply gorgeous costumes are featured, with all the gloss of an Old Hollywood production. One can see that Funny Girl was definitely a prestige project, owing to its luscious photography, dazzling choreography and of course the music. Though the story can feel like standard rise to the top stuff that’s been done dozens of times, the fact that some of it has basis in reality adds and it carries an emotional undercurrent throughout. Now Funny Girl is by no means flawless, as the midsection drags and starts to strain in comparison with the rest of the story. A tad of editing and trimming may have benefited this half of the movie. Luckily, there are many elements that compensate for those niggles and keep you watching the largely engrossing movie. Chief among these are the delightful musical numbers, performed with gusto and depth largely by Barbra Streisand. She gets into the songs so much, fully living them to the highest degree. From an amusing roller skate sequence to the moving ‘People’ and defiantly show stopping ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’, the musical sections are gorgeous and filled with vitality.
What really makes Funny Girl that something special is the outstanding Barbra Streisand. It’s hard to believe that this was her movie debut because of the confidence and ease with which she plays Fanny Brice. Sure she had played the part on stage and was a legit music star, but cinema is a totally different ball game that Streisand rose to, with Oscar-winning results. Embodying a cheeky, gauche charm that later morphs into sadness and disillusionment as her marriage falls apart and it becomes more difficult to put on a smiley face, Streisand’s commitment and exuberant talent announces itself loud and clear. Expertly funny, unwaveringly purposeful, heartbreaking and with a gorgeously soulful voice, Barbra Streisand earned her Oscar with this stunning performance. Omar Sharif has the required smoothness and ultimate desperation for Nick Arnstein, whose serious gambling problem causes his anger at the way things have turned out. Streisand and Sharif share a very good chemistry, going from charmed and loving to torn apart with conviction. Kay Medford is observant and wise as Fanny’s movie, while the role of Ziegfeld is acted with proper aristocratic ability by Walter Pidgeon. The supporting players do well in their parts, but the film belongs to Barbra Streisand.
A splendidly told musical full of glamour, heart and pangs of sadness, Funny Girl is a bravura film that announces the talents of a legend. It can get long-winded, but the overall dedication of those involved makes Funny Girl a sublime film to enjoy.