Funny Girl (film) Review

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After reviewing the West End production, have now watched the film Funny Girl. It will surprise no one to learn that Barbara Streisand was amazing. The part where Nicky asks Fanny to watch a poker game with no expression and she’s such a glorious failure! Fanny just dropping when she passes the curtain coming off stage, because she’s a talented performer but also a woman very worried about her marriage, is so good. Brice’s handling of the reporters after Nicky turns himself in is AMAZING. 100x more characters like this, please. Great singing, great comic presence, and great character acting on Barbara’s part. I am never surprised by her being a fucking pro.

What I am surprised by is how much better Nicky Arnstein works in this. Omar Sharif is always a deeply appealing performer (why Lawrence of Arabia didn’t retroactively become a problematic but fascinating major slash fandom, I cannot say, except for that fandom doesn’t work that way, more’s the pity). He plays the macho notes of Arnstein’s role with half a laugh, and seems to have altogether more personality than the stage version. In part Sharif works so well because he, like Fanny, is something of an outsider in this production. He’s a smooth, rich gentleman who also happens to be brown. There’s a story there, there are attendant intersectional privileges and disprivileges. It gives Nicky’s desire to maintain his power in this world in and of himself a kind of poignancy, a degree of comprehensibility. Nicky is, at present, an exotic foreign Somebody, but take away his cultivated air of prestige and he’s the Egyptian husband of a born-poor Jewish girl whose luck could turn (easily: this film ends in the inter-war period). With his personal vulnerability, situational positioning and good humor, Sharif makes this story a real romance between two well-drawn individuals, so that it can be a real tragedy when it falls apart.

The film is generally successful. I get more of a sense of Fanny as a performer here, too, and I’m glad her friend’s her friend now instead of pining for her. I really appreciate that Fanny’s mother no longer assigns her the blame for Nicky’s behaviour, and instead advises her not to throw money at the problem, but to talk it out, to support him as his wife via helping him figure out what he ought to do. Fanny’s failure to do this is a bit inexplicable in the film, but overall the logic of the cuts and additions manages the difficult feat of making a musical or play work like a film. If some of that comes at the expense of it feeling like a musical—oh well?

A movie very worth watching, and very worth working with and building off of if you intend to stage the musical.

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