It may be rather hard to believe, but I hadn’t seen Funny Girl prior to this release. It’s quite possible that some may find this to be a bit of cinematic blasphemy, especially for a film buff like me, but unfortunately the Streisand musical was never near the top of my list of older films that I absolutely had to see. What with the impending release of the film on Blu-Ray for its 45th anniversary, there seemed like no better time to finally visit what many consider to be a classic film, so without further ado, let’s dive right in.
The film tells the story of Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand), a young woman who dreams of becoming a star on the stage. She tries to become a chorus girl, but it just isn’t a good fit, especially when she can’t stay in sync with the rest of the group. When she finally gets her first chance in a show, we discover that she has a talent not only for singing, but also for comedy. This talent eventually gets her noticed by the biggest name in showbiz at the time, Florenz Ziegfeld (Walter Pidgeon), giving her career a huge boost as he puts her into his infamous Ziegfeld Follies.
Meanwhile, Fanny has also gotten to know an admirer by the name of Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif). He’s a rather mysterious man who gambles for a living and never has any set plans about the future. As Fanny travels all over the country for her shows, she runs into him again out of the blue, but this time he has much more serious intentions. Their relationship eventually has them getting married, but as Fanny discovers, trying to have a happy marriage with a gambler is not as easy as she thought it would be.
Having finally seen Funny Girl, my first impressions are that it is a mixed bag of a film. In fact, you could say that it is about half of a great film. The first act (which is about the first 90 minutes) is an absolutely amazing musical as it tells the story of Fanny breaking into show business and becoming a star of the Ziegfeld Follies. The music is top-notch and catchy, and the production design impeccable.
This is what makes it a disappointment to enter the second half of the film and find that it almost becomes an entirely different movie. In fact, if it weren’t for the same characters being there, I probably would have assumed it was a different film. Where the first half had an engaging an emotional story, the second half had an overdose of melodrama that shifts the focus from Fanny to Nick as he has major difficulties in his gambling.
It becomes rather questionable as to why the filmmakers would purposefully sideline the main character of the film in favor of a much less interesting one. Granted, Nick becomes somewhat of a main character, but he’s still not important enough for the amount of attention lavished on him in the second half. What would have probably worked much better was to give us a scene or two about how his gambling has gone downhill, but then to concentrate on how this affected Fanny more directly rather than following Nick around and seeing Fanny’s reaction on the sideline.
A mixed bag indeed given how amazing the first act is. Luckily, it still balances out to a decent film. Plus, there are several elements that shine throughout the entire picture. The production design continues to be stunning as the film proceeds, the music is always grand and catchy (though the second half also has the issue of having much less of it), and, of course, you have the magnificent performance of Barbra Streisand, which drives the entire film.
This is one hell of a film debut for a 26-year-old to make. Her desire to burst into showbiz at the beginning of the film and her star power on the stage come off as completely genuine, which comes as no surprise for someone like Streisand. It also comes as no surprise that she took home the Oscar for Best Actress of 1968 with this incredible performance. With such amazing talent on the screen though, you begin to question even more as to why the filmmakers would allow her to get pushed to the side for much of the second act.
There’s also Omar Sharif’s performance to enjoy. At this point, he was already a huge film star, known mainly for his work with the great David Lean in the epics Lawrence of Arabia (which earned him his one Oscar nomination) and Doctor Zhivago (which is perhaps his best-known role). I can’t say that he’s much of a singer, and indeed he was a strange choice for the role, but he can put on the charm with the best of them.
I wish the film had been able to stick to the greatness that the first act presented. Undoubtedly Nick’s life was going to have a major impact on Fanny’s, but this is something that we should be seeing through her eyes, not Nick’s. The filmmakers are obviously going for an emotional finish with the story of a woman whose dreams came true only to have part of it come apart, but the way it’s told gives the story over to melodrama instead of the hard-hitting drama that would leave a much larger impact.
The film may be considered a classic, but it is certainly not without its flaws. Aside from the second act, you could say that it’s a little longer than it needs to be at 155 minutes, though part of that includes the Overture and a brief intermission. However, the film offers more than enough to be able to recommend it, first and foremost, Streisand’s performance, which even rises above the melodrama of the second act. There is a great film in Funny Girl that wants to escape, but in the end, it merely has to settle for being good overall.
Now let’s take a look at the technical specs. The film is presented in a 2.35:1 1080p High Definition transfer that shows all the time and effort that went into restoring the film. The picture is amazingly sharp with all the colors of the lavish sets glistening brightly. The 5.0 DTS-HD Master Audio had equal care given to it. The musical numbers sound fantastic with every single sound being loud and clear. This is one area of the release that doesn’t disappoint.
Unfortunately, one that does is the special features. All we’re given are two short featurettes that are pretty much pointless inclusions. First is “Barbra in Movieland,” which merely gives you a small behind the scenes look at the filming of the “Don’t Rain on My Parade” musical number. The other is “This is Streisand,” which gives you a little background on the star. This release was a great opportunity to include lots of behind the scenes footage (if any more exists) or even to interview the surviving stars 45 years later to get their thoughts on it (for a commentary or even just a short featurette), but sadly we don’t get very much at all.
Even so, this is a fantastic release of the film given the outstanding video and audio quality. I can only imagine that this is what it must have looked like when it was first released back in 1968. On top of that, the film itself is pretty good when you look at it on the whole. As I mentioned, Funny Girl has its flaws, but there’s a lot to like about it too. If you’re a fan of the film, this is a release that is definitely worth your hard-earned money to own.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.
While the film has a few flaws that stop it from being as great as it could be, this is an excellent release of the classic musical that is a must-own for fans.