I’m not a big William Wyler fan. It’s weird. The guy is one of the most prolific directors of his time. He directed some great performances, and Oscar seemed to love him a whole lot, but I’m just not a big fan of his. I suppose it’s a bit unfair that the only film of his that’s on my list of favourites is one that many don’t appreciate that much. But that’s me; swimming against the tide as per usual. It’s also one of the last films he did – the 1967 musical Funny Girl.
Because the Oscars are crazy and could never reward a Hepburn picture with the top prize I guess I shouldn’t be that bummed that The Lion in Winter didn’t walk away with the top prize. But if they were going to reward a musical, why not reward the superior of the two – Wyler’s Funny Girl? Oliver was just abysmal – but I digress. Funny Girl is a simple story. Fanny Brice is a Jewish girl who hopes to become a star. She does, but at what cost? Like so many musicals, it’s not the actual plot that makes the film so wonderful – it’s the performers. And the success of Funny Girl as a film is rooted in Barbra Streisand’s eclectic performance as the funny girl.
The majority of the numbers in Funny Girl are sung by Fanny and this gives Barbra much room to show her range – both as a singer and an actress. She always thrived in comedy, so songs like 'Second Hand Rose' and especially 'You Are Woman, I Am Man' are done to comedic perfection. But when she gets teary eyed in those dramatic moments, it is beautiful too. 'People' is sung wonderfully, and wonderful finale of 'My Man 'is legendary for a reason, but I’ll get back to that. The pivotal song though is the title song, 'Funny Girl', written for the film version. It’s a slight number, but Streisand’s packs all her power into it, and it’s beautiful.
Omar Sharrif though is quite good as Fanny’s object of affection. The man is charming – we’d learnt that from Dr. Zhivago already, and he uses this charm once again in Funny Girl, and it’s wonderful. He and Streisand play wonderfully off each other, and though I suppose the performance is not really that strong, I’d have liked to see him nominated somewhere.
I said earlier that that final number in Funny Girl has become legendary. As Fanny performs 'My Man' and the camera closes in on Streisand’s tear stained face and all fades to black it’s all chillingly good, and it’s a nice bit of direction from Wyler. I don’t know, maybe Funny Girl is a guilty pleasure. Perhaps it’s not as good as I feel it is, but who cares. What about you? What do you think?