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Our review of Funny Girl, published November 13th, 2001, is also available.
She's a blast!
Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand, Guilt Trip) is a performer who dreams of becoming one of the world famous Ziegfeld girls. Unfortunately, everyone keeps telling her she's got skinny legs and a face that doesn't scream pretty. What Fanny lacks in looks, she makes up for in talent and confidence. Her onstage antics eventually catch the eye of Florenz Ziegfeld (Walter Pidgeon, Mrs. Miniver) who ends up putting Fanny onstage in one of his show's key roles. In the process, Fanny meets handsome gambler Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif, Lawrence of Arabia), whom she promptly falls in love with. Can she balance the love of her life with her love of the spotlight?
Looking over Barbra Streisand's filmography, it's amazing to think this consummate performer has only starred in six—count 'em, SIX!—movies over the last 25 years. During that time, Streisand spent most of her time performing on stage and recording albums. Love or hate her, Streisand is a true double threat entertainer: an Academy Award winning actress and a Grammy winning singer, selling out concert venues like they were going out of style. Streisand got her start in 1968 with Funny Girl, portraying real-life actress Fanny Brice in a performance she helped originate on stage a few years earlier, a role for which she received a Tony nomination. By all accounts it was quite an entrance, lavished with heaps of praise for her role, as well as an Oscar for Best Actress. The film would kick off a Hollywood career that featured movies like Hello Dolly!, The Way We Were, and a remake of the Judy Garland classic A Star is Born. Not bad for a woman who got her start playing a frumpy, skinny-legged plain Jane.
Funny Girl is an old school musical that, while certainly entertaining, finds itself rooted in a standard linear story that goes from A to B with little in the way of surprises. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Though there aren't many plot twists, there is a lot of humor, fantastic music, and lavish sets to be enjoyed. Directed by the legendary William Wyler (Ben Hur), this was his second to last film before retirement. Those who love the Golden Age of the Hollywood will most certainly eat up Funny Girl's humor, bouncy songs, and lavish production design.
I've never been a big fan of Streisand. Her persona in recent years has been dominated by hoity-toity, upper crust arrogance, seemingly out of touch with the rest of the world. Going back to something like Funny Girl, I found myself enamored with this younger "Babs" (she was 25 at the time). Like Fanny Brice, Streisand is far from the conventional beauty and yet she carries herself with confidence that makes her sexy. Add to that a wonderful sense of comedic timing, where zingers come fast and furious, and a deft touch for physical slapstick, and you can't imagine anyone but Streisand in this role.
The rest of Funny Girl's cast is a pleasure to watch. Omar Sharif as love interest Nick Arnstein is suave like Cary Grant with a hint of accent that makes him both debonair and seemingly unattainable. Sharif plays Nick with a cool detachment, thinking the best way to live life is without any real commitments. That is, until he meets the daffy Fanny. Walter Pidgeon plays Ziegfeld as a commanding presence not to be reckoned with, and yet Fanny is able to tap into his soft side, especially when she makes the audience laugh by coming out during a musical number as an improvised pregnant bride (taboo at the time!). Kay Medford (A Face in the Crowd) is amusing as Fanny's overly Jewish mother, and it's always a pleasure to see Mae Questel (National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation's Aunt Bethany) as nosy neighbor Mrs. Strakosh.
Funny Girl is filled with sets by Gene Callahan (Splendor in the Grass) that look sumptuous on Blu-ray and songs that are often memorable (including the Streisand classics "People" and "Don't Rain on My Parade"). If I can find any real fault with the film it's in the runtime. At over two and a half hours, the narrative starts to wear thin by the final act. Isobel Lennart's screenplay adaptation of her own stage play is professional enough, but I wouldn't say there's a great deal of depth or dimension to these characters (Fanny is mostly just a silly girl who's smitten with love). And yet, even with minor faults, Funny Girl is a warm amusing musical that will please those who love a good song and dance number and, of course, Barbra.
Presented in 2.35:1/1080p high definition widescreen and restored in 4K, Sony has put a lot of effort into making sure this film looks fantastic, and there's no arguing with the results; Funny Girl looks rather awesome in HD. The colors pop—oh, those sets, those costumes!—nearly leaping off the screen. The DTS-HD 5.0 Master Audio track offers some fine moments when the additional speakers kick in—most notably the music numbers—but it's an often front heavy mix. Alternate language tracks are available in Dolby 5.0 French, German, Italian, and Spanish, and a wealth of subtitles are also included. Sadly, bonus features are limited a couple of brief featurettes ("Barbra in Movieland", "This is Streisand").
It may not be the best of the classic movie musicals, but it is certainly
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