Streisand's Funny Fanny
Fanny Brice is an interesting person, not only did she pave the way for many female comedians and singers but she also had her own radio show. But her personal life is just as interesting especially when it came to her 2nd marriage to gambler Nick Arnstein. And as such "Funny Girl" does a good job of retelling her life, be it her rise to fame in the Follies or her marriage to Nick. But of course with "Funny Girl" being a biopic it does use a fair bit of poetic licence to make the story work and it certainly does work because it is a very entertaining movie be it the drama of Fanny's life, the humour of her character or her wonderful singing and Barbara Streisand does a brilliant job of bringing Fanny Brice to life.
Having grown up on the Jewish Lower East Side, Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand - What's Up, Doc?) with the support of her mother pursues a career in entertainment and manages to make it big when she becomes part of the famous Ziegfeld Follies. But at the same time she meets gambler Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif - Doctor Zhivago) with who she falls in love with and marries. But whilst Fanny's career sky rockets Nick's career as a gambler crashes as he loses everything not just his money but also his pride as his losses become public knowledge leading him to take desperate measures.
Whilst Barbara Streisand had played the role of Fanny Brice in the Broadway show she wasn't first choice for the movie, the studio wanted Shirley Maclaine to play the role and it makes you wonder what sort of movie "Funny Girl" would have been if they had got their way. As it turns out producer Ray Stark, who also produced the Broadway show and in fact was Fanny Brice's actual son-in-law insisted on Streisand and it's a good job he did. Not only is Streisand brilliant as Fanny Brice but she is also won an Oscar for her performance.
As for the actual storyline to "Funny Girl" well there is plenty of poetic licence used to make her story work as a movie. Whilst focusing on her rise to fame and her relationship with Nick Arnstein elements such as her first marriage and Nick's criminal record are ignored whilst other things such as Nick's involvement in the Bonds crime which lead to him going to jail has also been changed. But these changes are not done to paint a different picture of Fanny Brice but to make her story work as a piece of entertainment and one which fits into a reasonable running length. And to be honest these changes don't make it any less of a story when it comes to what a remarkable person Fanny Brice was.
Now whilst "Funny Girl" is all about Fanny Brice it is also all about Barbara Streisand and her characterization of this comedian and singer is both first rate and touching. The final musical scene as Fanny takes to the stage following a moment of heartbreak is a touching triumph taking us on this emotional journey as Fanny fights her emotions to perform finding the strength from somewhere. It's not just the final musical number which impresses as every single musical number be it the comedy of the roller skating song through to her fun audition for Florenz Ziegfeld as she sings "Second Hand Rose" are both beautiful and funny. And that is the thing about Streisand, she is the character, she delivers those wonderful musical numbers but also the comedy, the wise cracks and the risk taking making you forget that we are watching an actress playing a character.
Omar Sharif is just as good as Nick Arnstein especially when it comes to how gambling ends up ruining his life. You get a real sense of desperation as we watch Nick hit a losing streak causing him to lose everything and you get the sense of hurt he feels when Fanny tries to bale him out on the quiet. Sharif doesn't get praised enough for this side of his character because it is very real especially as through out this you also get the sense of how much he loved Fanny. The only negative is that Sharif struggles when called upon to sing and it is unfortunate that he duets with Streisand because it highlights how poor his singing is.
What this all boils down to is that "Funny Girl" is a very good movie as well as a very good biopic. You could say that it is false as it uses a lot of poetic licence when it comes to the truth but in doing so it not only makes the story of Fanny Brice work as a movie but it also gets across what an amazing woman she was. Much of why it works is down to Barbara Streisand who is first rate as Fanny Brice but she is assisted by Omar Sharif who with the exception of a weak singing voice delivers the emotion of Nick as he loses everything whilst gambling.