Funny Girl is based on a Broadway musical whose producer was married to the daughter of its subject, the wonderful singer and comedienne Fanny Brice, famous for popularizing the song “My Man” and (on the radio) the character of Baby Snooks. Of Hungarian-Jewish descent, Brice was born Fania Borach in New York in 1891 and died months shy of her sixtieth birthday. She was one of the stars of the Ziegfeld Follies. Her three failed marriages included ones to gambler and convicted criminal Nick Arnstein, which is portrayed in the film, and show producer/songwriter Billy Rose. The film provides only limited appreciation of the magnitude of Brice’s talent and stardom.
William Wyler directed; there is, surprisingly, an almost complete absence of period “feel.” The film is also ungainly and ridiculously long. But the worst offense, surely, is that the result is so generic that it bears little relation to Fanny Brice.
Barbra Streisand had played the role on stage, but is hampered here by many things, including her congenital coldness, meanness, self-absorption. Above all, she does nothing to adjust her condescending bourgeois manner; Brice’s background was lower-class, and Brice herself was a scrapper. By contrast, Streisand’s Brice is a kvetcher.
It doesn’t help either that the two most shimmeringly lovely songs from the show, “Who Are You Now?” and “The Music That Makes Me Dance,” and the funniest song and number, “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat,” have all been deleted. Strikingly but coldly, the film ends with Streisand against a black backdrop belting out (with laughably fake intensity) “My Man.” Streisand sings heartlessly; Brice sang bravely and with incredible soulfulness and heart. Their styles could not be further apart.
Arnstein is played by the Egyptian star Omar Sharif. Press at the time stressed Sharif’s teaming with a Jewish actress.
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