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« NYFF: Christophe Honoré's "Sorry Angel"| Main| Beauty vs Beast: Sugar & Spice & Everything March »
Monday
Sep 24 2018

Funny Girl at 50

byTim

This past week bore witness to one of the most very important anniversaries imaginable:Funny Girlturned fifty.And if you don't know whatFunny Girlis and why it matters,I'm a little shocked you found this site,but I'm happy to explain that it's a Best Picture-nominated musical directed by Oscar favorite William Wyler,and the film debut of cabaret singer-turned-Broadway star-turned embodied deity Barbra Streisand.Who also got some Oscar love,winning Best Actress in a tie with Katharine Hepburn's turn inThe Lion in Winter.

Not least among the achievements ofFunny Girlis that,when thus compared head-to-head with one of the grandest dames of screen acting,Streisand looks like pretty worth recipient of that honor.Funny Girl,as scripted by Isobel Lennart (who also wrote the book for the 1963 stage version,also starring Streisand),is a gift to its lead,offering pretty much everything you could want to demand of a musical theater actor: broad comedy!tear-jerking heartbreak!steel-willed fortitude!songs where you have to be manic!songs where you have to be pensive!

It's a showcase role for the complete spectrum of talent possessed by whomever takes on the title role of iconic comedian Fanny Brice,and it's hard to see how any decently talented star couldn't make a strong impact with all the deck stacked in her favor.Streisand,for her part,was far more than "decently"talented,and what she ended up doing with Brice ranks among the very best debut performances on the books.

The genius in the performance lies substantially in how she layers moods.Streisand's Fanny is never just an eager innocent,or just a suffering wronged woman,or just a hard-working comic.She constantly weaves emotions in and out: for example making Fanny's characteristic hard-charging prattle seem like a mask for nerves,or impatience,or anger,not just as a sign of the character's constant comic energy.But at the same time,she doesn't bury the fact that Fanny really,really likes to tell jokes.Half a century onward,the idea that comedians are hiding their real feelings under gags isn't remotely new,but in remembering that this can co-exist with insight and creativity into what's funny for an audience,and the reality that even for shy,self-loathing people,making humor is pleasurable in its own right,that's where Streisand's electrifying work shines.And you can substitute a similar line of reasoning for so many moments in the film: her soaring rendition of the great song "People",which is in her hands as much about trying to flirt with Omar Sharif's Nick and making sure he's the kind of man she wants to flirt with as it is about having a showstopping number;or,in maybe my favorite single moment of her performance,her inner conflict during dinner with Nick at being very curious about what it might be like to sleep with him while also being extremely,rightfully pissed at him for taking it for granted that she's thus curious.



There's very little question that Streisand is the best thing aboutFunny Girl,and the next half-century of her career has made it even harder to keep in mind that there's anything else happening in the film,but it is worth keeping in mind that Best Actress was just one of eight nominations the film received.

There is a movie behind the performance,that is to say,and a movie with a fair share of charm at that.Probably not "Best Picture nominee"levels of charm,but for all the obvious flaws (the hefty running time,a tendency toward over-bright cinematography that makes everything look a little fake,Sharif's inability to avoid being blown off the screen by his co-star),the strengths are enough to make this one of the strongest musicals of the late '60s.Especially compared to some of the other period piece musicals from right around the same time,like 1967'sDoctor Dolittle,or 1969'sPaint Your WagonandHello,Dolly!(the latter with Streisand as lost in the material asFunny Girlfinds her in control of it),this film does excellent work in bring its old-fashioned setting alive with busy,detailed sets and costumes.And the film also benefits from a pretty great set of songs,admittedly rather modern-sounding,that Streisand belts out without holding anything back.It's also pretty damn funny,capturing something of the go-for-broke energy that made Brice one of the great stars of her generation.

No doubt that the film is showing its age pretty substantially after a half-century,as it well might,but it's still a lot fresher than most of the films it was in direct competition with.Of course Streisand's star-is-born performance remains all the justification one would need to see it anyway,but the film's qualities as a handsomely-mounted musical are enough to make this a worthwhile film to revisit.

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Reader Comments (22)

Will we be talking about Lion in Winter as well?Both movies are incredible and both have wonderful performances by the actresses in the lead roles.

September 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterTom G.

Streisand is so meh.

September 24,2018 | Unregistered Commentertoots

toots: LOL.She's many things,but meh is not one of them!

September 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Still,for me,this was the best performance she ever gave in the movies.

September 24,2018 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

There is nothing "meh"about La Streisand

September 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

This performance is up there with the Garland/Minnelli family in terms of iconic Leading Actress musical performances.While I love the idea of a tie in best actress and these performances being so great I do slightly prefer Streisand.I'm a fan of Streisand in most of her films but this is a tour de force turn that no one could ever have achieved.It still holds up half a century later and no matter how hard others try she is this role and show.

September 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

toots: I can agree that sometimes I find the Streisand LOVE a little over the top,but not for this film or this performance

I think if there was a textbook definition of a role being beyond tailor made for an actor,this would be it.Fanny is the role Streisand,sorry for the cliche,was born to play.Give me another definitive performance in the last 50 years that was so tailor made to an actors strengths.I'm waiting.MAYBE Keaton in 'Annie Hall',but the choices are few and far between.

This performance is an absolute treasure and the standard to which musical theatre performance is held to.Ever wonder why there has NEVER been a revival of this show?Look no further.Who could fill these shoes?And who would want to take that on?

September 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterZach

LOVE this film.It has all the defects you listed plus as an actual biography of Fannie Brice its worthless but as a star making vehicle there have rarely if ever been better ones.

Babs is eminently watchable and unguarded,something that didn't last long in her screen work.Sharif dashing and the clothes and sets sumptuous.The songs for the most part memorable and Wyler's direction sure handed.There's also the wonderful Kay Medford perhaps the only cast member who Streisand wasn't able to overpower in their scenes together.

The length can be a bit daunting but this was from the road show period when all musicals were being made with entrance and exit music and an intermission.Having seen it that way when it was remastered and had a short theatrical run it played very well in that context,and the final performance of My Man on that huge screen was just POW!!and you left the theatre fully understanding Streisand's magic.I can only imagine what it must have been like when the film was originally released and for the most part she was a little known quantity.

September 24,2018 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

In a departure from established rules,the Academy accepted William Wyler's suggestion that Streisand be invited to become a member of AMPAS,effective immediately.That meant Streisand was able to vote,presumably for herself!If the suggestion had been discarded and she' had been invited to join the Academy at a later date,maybe there would have been no tie and she would have lost!

September 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

This is one of my two favorite performances of all time,right up there with Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara.Streisand is charm incarnate in the role.

Actually,I've been thinking about Funny Girl this month because A Star is Born reminds me of it.Both have a magical first half with superb characterization,raw talent,and memorable songs,and both then buckle in the second half when they can't balance a love story with the tale of the main artist's career rise.

September 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Cate Blanchett is a terrible actress.Flop.

September 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterWheeljack

This is why I read this website.And Omar Sharif oh SWOON!

September 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterFR

If Babs would have lost to Hepburn by one vote that year she would have won Best Actress for The Way We Were.

September 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

Did she pass?Rest in peace.I only liked her in What's Up Doc?and the one about the housewife.Terrible actress and a royal pain.She ruins everything with her odd insecurities and vanity.

September 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJason Dearest

There has been a successful revival of "Funny Girl"in London,with Sheridan Smith in the title role.The reviews for Smith were "astonishing","mesmerizing","acclaimed performance".

It's widely acknowledged that it's tough to recreate a signature role of an iconic performer,but they consider Smith accomplished it.A filmed version of the play will be shown this fall in those theatres participating in the filmed performances from various London theatres,so we could see for ourselves.

Watching part of Funny Girl lately,Streisand is still fresh and funny and marvellous,but hoo boy,has that story "dated"to the point of semi-constant irritation.Nicky Arnstein,get lost.

September 25,2018 | Unregistered Commenteradri

To describe Funny Girl at 50: Drags her feet too long on "passion"projects to her own regret.The Normal Heart,Gypsy...

September 25,2018 | Unregistered Commentershonice

Babs was fabulous till her vanity,ego and self-consciousness ate away her screen charisma one movie at a time till she ran out of puff by the early 80s.Yentl was a brief respite but after that,she went downhill fast and furious.Sad.Especially when her movies from Funny Girl to The Way We Were showed so much promise of a great talent.

September 25,2018 | Unregistered CommenterPete

This is my favorite Best Actress winning performance.

Also remember that Funny Girl was the highest grossing film that year.

September 25,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Producers have been trying for years to get a revival of Funny Girl on Broadway and the problem comes down to finding someone to fill Streisand's shoes.There are actors who can play the role but aren't names,and there are names who could fill the theater but can't play the role.If that's not a testament to the lasting impact of this performance and how difficult it actually is,I don't know what is.

September 25,2018 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

To add to Adri and Robert G - Sheridan Smith is very much a name in the UK across stage and TV (with three BAFTA nominations and four Olivier nominations,picking up a win in each).Entirely possible that she'll pop up on American radars in future,though I guess the role demands a musical theatre dynamo who's also young enough to convince?

In which case,I understand why Broadway attempts have failed at the casting stage...

September 25,2018 | Unregistered Commenterkermit_the_frog

Streisand sings beautifully and is by far the best thing about this gigantic turd of a movie,but I believe modern audiences miss the excitement of "discovering"her,as most movie goers probably get to Funny Girl later in life,after already knowing what an insufferable cunt of a woman she is/would eventually become (and not that long after,if you by Walter Matthau's account of her behavior in Hello,Dolly).

Her recordings are a joy,though.She has truly the voice of her generation.

On a separate note,the notion that she should tie for the Best Actress Oscar with one of Katharine Hepburn's best performance in her entire career is ludicrous.The match of screen persona,range,technique and script that birthed Hepburn's Eleanor of Aquitaine was like capturing lightning in a bottle,with the added benefit of acting opposite Peter O'Toole,giving his finest performance.That duo is celluloid dynamite.The fact that Hepburn was one vote away from BOTH of them losing the lead Oscars that year just goes to show the Academy has always been riddled with people with horrible taste.亚博主页

September 26,2018 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

Hepburn's glowing performance in The Lion in Winter did no win alone (and with a considerable edge over Streisand).Well,in addition to the quality of Babs performance (which is undeniable),the reason for the tie may be the fact that Hepburn had won the Oscar the year before,for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

As to a Broadway Revival of the Funny Girl: One was planned back in 2011.It was to open in Los Angeles to then arrive in Broadway.However,later on -with production quite advanced- four of the producers jumped ship,and the project fell through.It was to be produced by Bob Boyett and directed by Bartlett Sher.Lauren Ambrose and Bobby Cannavale were hired to play Fanny Brice y Nicky Arnstein.Lea Michele had been campaining fiercely for the role,but had to desist since the FG production would conflict with her schedule on Glee.

Then,there's the very successful revival in London,starring Sheridan Smith,I don't know if the production will eventually move to Broadway,but a filmed version will play in cinemas worlwide on October 24.

You can read here: https://www.broadway.com/buzz/193317/londons-funny-girl-to-appear-in-cinemas-worldwide-watch-sheridan-smith-sing-out-in-theatrical-trailer/

September 30,2018 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

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