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FUNNY GIRL

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Barbara Streisand, Omar Sharif, Kay Medford, Anne Francis, Walter Pidgeon
Director:  William Wyler
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.0, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  155 Minutes
Release Date:  October 30, 2001

“Hello, gorgeous.”

Film ***

I've never been a big fan of Barbara Streisand, at least not as far as movies went, but Funny Girl has always been a distinct exception.  Watching this film for the first time in about ten years, I can't help but think that the role of Broadway, radio and TV star Fanny Brice was a part made for the plucky Ms. Streisand.  She gives it her all in an extraordinary performance, and she strolled off with an Oscar for her efforts.

Fanny Brice was a legend in her day.  Despite not being what mainstream audiences would consider “attractive”, despite her self-depreciating sense of humor and lack of physical grace, the lady had talent.  She was one of the funniest comic actresses to ever take the stage.  Her star rose to great heights as a member of Ziegfeld's Follies, and that was just for starts.

The movie, based on the original stage musical, is a very loose look at the life of Ms. Brice…let's face it, we don't see musicals for facts but for fantasy, and this story takes its sweet liberties in the name of spirit and entertainment.  The entire story is told in flashback form as Fanny Brice (Streisand) reflects back on her rise to stardom, and the personal heartaches along the way.

She wanted to be an actress for as long as she could remember, and was determined to make it despite her unconventional looks.  A few bit parts show off her comic aptitude, and soon she catches the eye of legendary stage producer Flo Ziegfeld (Pidgeon), as well as handsome gambler Nick Arnstein (Sharif). 

The film gets better as it focuses on the love between Fanny and Nick…it's a beautiful, touching story that seems like a dream come true for awhile, until Nick's luck with the cards starts to turn sour, thus altering the very foundation of his relationship to Fanny…in his eyes, anyway.

There are some terrific songs along the way, naturally, belted to bombastic perfection by Ms. Streisand.  Classics like “People” and “Don't Rain on My Parade” have become staples of modern culture, as well as signature songs for their singer.  “My Man” is delivered with poignant irony.  Barbara's performance really helps integrate every note into the fabric of the story, so much so that the picture may not have worked as well without them.

The movie is a little long, for my taste, but ultimately quite satisfying.  The best parts greatly outweigh the slower ones, and the terrific acting across the board keep us invested in the characters from start to finish.  Our hearts go out to Fanny and Nick…we like them both, and want to see them happy.  Whether or not they can be happy together is one of the picture's most touching explorations.

No, I don't feel any closer to the real Fanny Brice when I watch Funny Girl…but I do like to think there are some elements of truth to her character the way Ms. Streisand portrays her.  She had spirit, pluck, determination, and talent that transcended type…and arguably, had everything needed to be happy as long as circumstances would allow her to be.

Video ***1/2

This is a beautiful and impressive anamorphic widescreen offering from Columbia Tri Star…if you've never seen this film in its Scope ratio, you're in for a treat.  The Technicolor print looks gorgeous from start to finish, with rich, vibrant colors and good detail.  Some shots were obviously filtered a bit to give Ms. Streisand a softer look, but those are normal practice and acceptable.  Once in a while, reds don't look quite as full as one might imagine they would, but that's a very small critique of an otherwise splendid video offering.

Audio ***

The main difference between the 2.0 and 5.0 tracks is the volume.  The latter is quite a bit louder and fuller sounding, using the front and rear stages to open up the music a little more instead of creating discreet effects.  The overall sound is clean, with some good panning on the front stage (especially during the singing sequences) and should satisfy fans nicely.

Features **

There are two very short featurettes, “Barbara in Movieland” and “This is Streisand”…both more concerned with the building up of the film's leading lady than with the film itself, plus some filmographies, four trailers (none of which are for this movie), a skip-to-a-song feature, and a booklet of production notes.  Something on the real Fanny Brice would have been much nicer than all the Streisand-pumping, but hey, it didn't rain on my parade.

Summary:

Barbara Streisand is indeed a Funny Girl and much more in her Oscar winning movie debut.  Though light as biography, it succeeds as entertainment, thanks to some great songs and terrific performances by both leading actors.  The DVD offering is a quality one, and fans of Ms. Streisand or the film itself will be quite happy with this disc.