As far back as I can remember, I was aware of Barbara Streisand. I knew her name. I recognized her face.
I knew that she was in show business, but I had no idea what she had done to become so famous.
That ignorance lasted for a long time. Finally, yesterday morning I watched “Funny Girl.” And I just read that it was THE smash hit for women of the late 1960s.
Well, I am pleased to be educated. That is the best I can say about the 2 ½ hours I spent with that mediocre movie.
Streisand stars as Fanny Brice. She’s a charismatic young woman in early 20th Century New York. Fanny has one ambition: to perform on stage. She has the talent; but producers keep rejecting Fanny because she’s not pretty enough to be a star.
This plot contrivance didn’t resonate with me. I found Barbara Streisand plenty attractive. It’s her singing that is plain and unremarkable. There isn’t a single great song in the whole movie. “People who need people…” what does that even mean?
When “Funny Girl” remembers to be funny, it’s reasonably good. When she’s still trying to get famous, Fanny claims to know how to roller skate. The scene where she rolls all around the stage bumping into people is perfect slapstick. I laughed so hard my cats were confused.
On her opening night with Ziegfeld Follies, Fanny plays a bride singing “His Love Makes Me Beautiful.” Except last minute, she decides to come out with a big pillow under her dress that makes her look eight months pregnant. The crowd loved it. I did, too.
At that point – the high point of the movie – I wondered if “Funny Girl” was going to be some sort of edgy parody of musical theater. Sadly, no.
Instead, “Funny Girl” takes a turn for the serious and the boring. The music disappears and the comedy evaporates. You thought you were watching an uplifting comedy? nope: this is a drama about a bad marriage.
As Fanny’s career skyrockets, her marriage crumbles. The reason is – get this! – that Fanny’s suave husband Nicky (Omar Sharif) is angry that his wife is so rich and successful. This plotline is as uninteresting as it is unrelatable.
I’ve talked to plenty of husbands over the years. One thing I’ve never heard is: “Woe is me. My wife is marvelously happy with her career and she’s raking in more money than ever. Oh, the sorrow. If only she could be poorer and more discontented again.”
I’ve never heard anyone say anything like that. And I have most certainly heard guys express the opposite sentiment.
The long final act of “Funny Girl” is a total failure and really strange. No stranger, though, than the millions of Americans who loved it and decided that Barbara Streisand was their favorite new pop star. I guess I’ll never see the appeal.