While Barbra Streisand’s Oscar-winning film debut Funny Girl (1968) originated as a Broadway show, this lavishly produced sequel was created for the screen. Accordingly, the visual razzle-dazzle is amped up considerably from the first picture, but the spectacle overwhelms the paper-thin story. The narrative begins with Broadway comedy/singing star Fanny Brice (Streisand) reeling from the end of her marriage to callous gambler Nicky Arnstein (Omar Sharif, who briefly reprises his role from the first film). It’s the height of the Great Depression, so Fanny’s financial troubles make her susceptible to an overture from overbearing producer/songwriter Billy Rose (James Caan), who wants Fanny to headline his new show. The first half of the picture depicts the development and out-of-town tryouts for the show, titled Crazy Quilt, and director Herbert Ross (who staged the musical numbers for the original movie) borrows heavily from Bob Fosse’s bag of tricks to present opulent numbers with eye-popping costumes and sets. The highlight, at least from a visual perspective, is Ben Vereen’s amazing dance during “Clap Hands! Here Comes Charley”—but that scene does nothing to advance the narrative, which gives a sense of the picture’s unfocused nature. Streisand and Caan make an effective duo, each coming on so strong that they raise each other’s games, and screenwriters Jay Presson Allen and Arnold Schulman give the pair quite a few passages of edgy banter. Yet the preoccupation with surface beauty kills credibility in every scene, because, for instance, the filmmakers devote inordinate amounts of energy to making Streisand look as sexy as possible, even though she’s playing a middle-aged comedienne who was never considered a great beauty. At its worst, the movie goes totally off track with anachronistic glamour-girl numbers like “Great Day,” which looks like a clip from one of Cher’s ’70s TV specials. Streisand also drops the naïve charm of her characterization from the first film, playing Fanny as the sort of emotionally underdeveloped showbiz diva we’ve seen a million times, so it’s impossible to care when she finds herself torn between Billy and Nicky. Funny Lady is gorgeous to behold, and Streisand’s voice is as remarkable as ever, but it never connects as a love story or as a continuation of the beloved original.
Funny Lady: FUNKY