Friday, October 19, 2012

Funny Girl Movie Review

It used to be the case where watching a big budget, major motion picture was a highly cultural event. Theater attendees would probably dress up like they would for a night at the opera, the movie would have overture before the opening credits, an intermission, and fully orchestrated exit music. Ben-Hur (1959) is an example of this, as is Funny Girl (1968). Ben-Hur was an epic tale which deserved such presentation. Funny Girl, though it was good, didn’t seem to have a big enough story to justify its production costs.
Funny Girl is loosely based on the life and career of Broadway and film star and comedienne Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand). Set just prior to and following the First World War, the awkward “New Yawker” Fanny Brice fast-talks her way into show business, certain that she’s destined to be “The Greatest Star.” She is later hired as a dramatic singer by impresario Flo Ziegfeld (Walter Pidgeon). Unable to follow orders to play drama, she turns her role in a “Beautiful Bride” tableau into a laugh riot by dressing herself up as an extremely pregnant newlywed. This stunt turns her into an overnight star and the toast of Broadway. Her comedic public image hides her imperfect private life as the wife of big-time gambler Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif). Nick at first finds it amusing to be referred to as “Mr. Brice,” but he begins to resent his wife’s fame and fortune and starts taking foolish risks with other people’s money.
In general, I enjoy musicals. Musicals have to be crafted very meticulously and carefully. Musicals can go one of two ways; they either have meaningful songs and musical numbers that complement the tone of the story and develop the characters well, or they rely too much on fun musical numbers that have nothing to do with the story or characters, thus weakening the film. Funny Girl seems to fall in the latter category. The songs are alright, but they don’t really modify the story or move it forward. Funny Girl has a bland romantic story with almost illogical vaudeville interludes here and there. Only a couple of them reflect what is happening in the story or to the characters, the rest are just filler that does nothing but reemphasize the fact that Brice does theater.
Funny Girl was Barbra Streisand’s first film role, and she did so well that she won an Academy Award for Best Actress. That is pretty much where the good acting ends in this film. All the supporting characters are very dull, predictable, and poorly acted. They’re almost mechanical in their delivery. I enjoy a good romantic story, but this was just dreadful melodrama. Streisand, by contrast, blows them all out of the water and steals the show. She really makes everyone who isn’t Barbra Streisand look like a petty supporting character. Streisand doesn’t just sing these songs, she acts them. She is expressive, has excellent comedic timing, and is genuinely fun to watch.
It seems strange to say that a movie looked too good for what it was, but that is the case for Funny Girl. The sets were huge, elaborate, and detailed. Even if the set was used only once or twice, it was still too big for the action that was occurring onscreen. For example, the scene when Fanny and Nick finally have a chance to talk for the first time there is a huge, expansive set they stroll around while talking. They are the only ones on set, no background action to capture, and the actors don’t move all that much. It looks okay, I suppose, but it really draws attention to the fact that they are on a set and the production has lots of money to spare. There are also elaborate, sweeping camera shots and wide angles used to captivate events that just aren’t that grandiose. There’s a scene that shows us one of Fanny’s first stage performances, but the camera is so far back away from the stage itself we see less of what she is doing and more of the elaborate set in the peripherals. The movie almost seems to be trying to show us how much money went into the production rather than tell us a story.
Funny Girl isn’t necessarily bad, just over-produced, over-photographed, and really long. During the second act, there are fewer musical numbers and the pace of the movie slows down considerably. This really draws attention to the small scope the movie has and emphasizes the leaden melodrama and poor acting of everyone who isn’t Barbra Streisand. Streisand really is stunning in this film, and makes the whole thing worth watching; I can’t praise her enough for her acting job in Funny Girl, it’s so expressive and full of quirky subtleties that are uniquely hers. This was, of course, before she became one of the most obnoxiously egocentric entertainers in the world. Overall, I didn’t enjoy Funny Girl very much and if not for Streisand, I would have flat out hated it. If you enjoy watching movies that are pretty, have fun musical numbers, and aren’t bothered by poor acting, you’ll likely love this movie and I’d recommend seeing it. If you find extravagant camera work visually distracting, unjustified musical numbers annoying, and weak romantic stories boring, I’d steer clear of this one.

Do you have a favorite Barbra Streisand movie? What is it and why do you like it so much? Comment below and tell me why!


  1. Great review!

    We're linking to your article for Academy Monday at

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Thank you very much for linking and mentioning my review! I appreciate it a lot!
      You've got a good blog yourself, I'll have to keep up with it.
      Thanks again!