Funny Lady (1975)
Funny Girl Grows Up
With the depression hitting everyone Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand - Little Fockers) finds herself struggling for work and also struggling when love of her life Nicky (Omar Sharif - MacKenna's Gold) divorces her. In need of work Fanny meets showman Billy Rose (James Caan - The Godfather) who after recording one of his songs reluctantly agrees to star in a new production he is putting on. Things don't go well on the opening night when a comedy of errors causes it to be a total disaster but with Billy saying he is in debt to the mob persuades Fanny to stick with him and help him redo the production to make it work. And as they find themselves working closer and closer romance ensues.
So there are a lot of things I could tell you about "Funny Lady"; I could tell you that reportedly Barbra Streisand didn't want to make the movie but was contractually obligated and supposedly faced litigation if she didn't. I could also tell you that reportedly Streisand wanted Robert Blake to play the part of Billy Rose but things didn't work out after he supposedly read for her and was upset when he realised it was an audition. There is a lot more bits of trivia surrounding this sequel to "Funny Girl" but the most important thing I can tell you is that it is a very different beast to the previous movie.
Okay so both "Funny Lady" and the original "Funny Girl" are movies which are based on the life of Fanny Brice with this focussing on her marriage to Billy Rose. But where as the first movie was an energetic and bubbly musical driven by a story and larger than life characters this sequel ends up a montage of musical scenes with the occasional character development stuck in between. It lacks the pizzazz of the original, the audience involvement with the characters especially that of Fanny Brice as she became a star.
Now some say that Streisand's reported reluctance to do the movie shows but I beg to differ because this is a different Fanny Brice, a grown up Fanny who has some of the life knocked out of her by a failed marriage and the great depression. And that bit about marriage is an important point because despite the relationship which blossoms with Billy she still has feelings for Nicky even when he shows up to see one of her performances. In that scene she shares with Omar Sharif we get a brief glimpse of the old Fanny as he brings out the giddy lover in her. As such I have to say Streisand's performance of a grown up, more sombre Fanny is a good one and unsurprisingly when she performs one of the numerous musical numbers she shines.
What also leads to some people's feelings over Streisand's performance is that opposite her is James Caan who as Billy Rose is a quick talking charmer full of sharp responses. Because Caan's performance is intentionally lively it highlights the sombreness which has befallen the character of Fanny. But it is a good performance from Caan and he works well with Streisand in this chalk n cheese dynamic.
What this all boils down to is that "Funny Lady" is a good musical with Streisand delivering a very good performance of a more sombre, beaten down Fanny Brice alongside an energetic James Caan. But if you watch this expecting the same fun and frivolity as well as involvement of "Funny Girl" you are likely to be disappointed.
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