Starring-Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif
Scott’s Review #1,022
Reviewed May 11, 2020
Barbra Streisand won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her outstanding portrayal of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl (1968). She reprises a role that she made famous on the Broadway stage, bringing her to the big-screen. The role is vitally important and presents a great message, teaching viewers that an unconventional woman with great talents can succeed in show biz, leaving prim and proper starlets salivating with jealousy. Features the classic tunes “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” as well as the title track.
Fanny (Streisand) is an unhappy Jewish New Yorker, living in semi-poverty and dreaming of the big time. Her mother (Kay Medford) and others in the community try to persuade Fanny to live a normal life far from the hot and judgmental lights of the stage, but she will have none of it. Finding success on her own terms in Ziegfeld Follies throughout World War I, she also finds love and passion with the suave Nick Arnstein (Sharif) following her debut performance. The story is loosely based on the life and career of the real Fanny and her stormy relationship with entrepreneur and gambler, Nick.
Taking nothing away from Sharif, who is more than adequate, the film belongs to Streisand. Despite being a novice, producers wanted nobody other than Streisand in the role since she had hit a home run in the stage version. A brief consideration to have Shirley MacLaine star in hindsight seems laughable and unimaginable. Sharif’s suave and dangerous swarthy characterization balances perfectly with Streisand’s naivety and innocence. The Jewish female and the Muslim male also must have raised an eyebrow or two at the time.
Streisand is a breath of fresh air in a role that could be said to mimic real life and reflects film in 1968 and beyond. Glamour girls were the height of fashion throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s where looks sometimes usurped talent. By the lifting of the Hollywood Code, grittier and dirtier roles were to be found for women. Streisand, as Fanny, proves that a self-proclaimed ugly duckling can rise to the top of the cream. Refusing to get a nose job or otherwise alter her appearance or name, she mirrors Fanny in many ways, inspiring both women and men to be yourself to achieve truth.
Director William Wyler, no stranger to Hollywood success with pictures such as Mrs. Miniver (1942) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) knows how to pace and balance a film nicely and how to present a cheery and splendid offering in a nice way, careful not to make the film too lightweight either. Comic scenes such as when Fanny upstages everyone and prances around stage as a pregnant newlywed becoming the talk of the town are the best ones. The film succeeds when it is fun.
Sharif does his best with a small role, surprising given the importance of the character, but the dramatic moments are not the best scenes. They are okay and certainly not overacted by the stars, but do not work as well as when Streisand belts out “People” on a lonely sidewalk. The issue is that Streisand is Funny Girl and even prominent actors like Sharif never had a chance. The one exception is Medford who goes toe to toe with Streisand in every scene with gusto and humor.
Funny Girl (1968) may suffer from a few overly melodramatic moments that slow it down, especially concerning the main romance, but the prominent message is one of staying true to one’s own colors. Refusing to be influenced by elders or even her beau, Fanny is to be heralded as an inspiration to all viewers. With delightful musical numbers and zesty wardrobe pieces, the film has a cheery and fun veneer, but more lies beneath the surface. Whether the intention is a sing-along experience or a deeper meaning, the film has something for everyone.
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress-Barbra Streisand (won), Best Supporting Actress-Kay Medford, Best Score of a Musical Picture-Original or Adaptation, Best Song Original for the Picture-“Funny Girl”, Best Sound, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing