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Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Classic Film Review: Funny Lady (1975)

The sequel to Funny Girl (1968), Funny Lady continues the story of Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand) and depicts her relationship with showman Billy Rose (James Caan) following her divorce from Nicky Arnstein (Omar Sharif). During the Depression she struggles to find work but she and Rose work together, reigniting her career and teaching him a few things in the process. The film also stars Roddy McDowall as Bobby Moore.

Given how wonderful Funny Girl is, this sequel was always going to struggle. However, for me, it does a good job in many respects. Streisand's portrayal of Brice as someone matured by her experiences with Arnstein is compelling, as are the scenes where she accepts that she still loves him. Perhaps the best scene of the film comes when Brice is ruminating on her relationship with Rose while singing 'Isn't This Better?' As an acceptance that a marriage/friendship that works is more useful than a passionate love, it's a poignant moment. I also enjoyed the big numbers, especially 'Let's Hear it For Me' and 'How Lucky Can You Get'. Like the original film, Funny Lady switches gear between comedy and tragedy rapidly, and manages to pull it off.

James Caan as Billy Rose works very well. His interactions with Streisand before their marriage are brilliant and snippy, especially when he believes he knows best. For example, the catastrophic opening night which has scenery crashing everywhere and Brice trapped in her dressing room is comedic gold. The chemistry works in that it has to be one-sided - Rose adores her but Brice is still in love with Arnstein. It was also good that Sharif returned to hover in the background of this film. He was a link to the first film along with the brief appearances by their daughter, and I like that sort of grounding. Actually, I was a little disappointed that Brice's mother didn't make a small appearance since she was a memorable part of Funny Girl.

Ultimately, this is a bittersweet love story that showcases Streisand's talents and, as far as sequels go, it's a pretty good one.

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