The last singer-biopic I watched was the miserable Love Me Or Leave Me in which Doris Day plays a singer who marries middle-aged gangster James Cagney so she can get ahead in show business. Luckily Fanny is not indebted to Nick, and yes, some people might find his seduction song ‘You Are Woman, I Am Man’ a little creepy but the chemistry between Streisand and Sharif makes it work. The affair they were having during the film’s production probably helped.
Funny Girl has some great songs, pretty much all of which go to Streisand, who is very much the star and lets the audience know that. Most of the best songs- ‘I’m The Greatest Star’, ‘People’ and the most famous, ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’- are in the first half and the second half is more straight-forwardly dramatic. I did miss the songs but they would have been out of place. And it’s worth it to get to the final two: the title song and torch song ‘My Man’. I’m not particularly bothered by Streisand but watching this film, I can’t help enthusing. The softer songs such as ‘People’ and ‘Funny Girl’ show that she has a nice voice rather than simply the shouty belt that everyone deems to be the mark of a good singer, and in my opinion, they’re the better songs; better acted and fitting better with the story.
As for the comedy, she reminds me of Jennifer Aniston for some odd reason. The film works better when her comedy is blended into her personality rather than her cranking out the one liners like a true entertainer. Apart from her family who are wheeled in occasionally to cheer her on (though the mother is moving towards the end), no one else gets to be funny. Apparently Streisand was a major diva on this film and made it firmly a star vehicle, which I guess it is.
What saves it from being a one-woman show is Omar Sharif’s performance as Nick Arnstein. It was a bit odd getting an Egyptian actor, using his natural accent, to play an Italian American but I didn’t give it a second thought watching the film. He’s charming so we don’t become annoyed at Fanny risking her career for a man who isn’t exactly steady- but he’s not too charming. The film requires Streisand to be the star so Sharif mainly looks at her in that classic Hollywood romantic way- as if she is the most wonderful and beautiful person in the world.
This is of course a magic ingredient in the Hollywood musical, sadly lacking in the modern musicals where everything must be cynical and knowing. Funny Girl avoids being dated in the way that something like Annie Get Your Gun is, so there’s no need to brace yourself for the awkward racism/sexism moments, but it takes all the best from the golden era of film musicals.