Several of the Streisand biographies "quote" Streisand as saying that Ray Stark (the producer behind the successful FUNNY GIRL) would have to drag her to court in order to make FUNNY LADY. It is also said that Streisand's burgeoning love affair with former hairdresser Jon Peters sustained her during the filming of FUNNY LADY - as if the the romance made up for the fact that the work on a FUNNY GIRL sequel was unfulfilling.
Whatever the true story is, we now have a brand new FUNNY LADY DVD from Columbia Pictures. For people like me who made the jump from VHS to DVD (and skipped the laser disk revolution in the 90's), it is wonderful to finally view this film in all its WIDESCREEN glory! James Wong Howe (no relation, although I'm proud to share his surname) photographed FUNNY LADY, and it looks good! The color palette utilized by the film's designers is a bit bawdy for my tastes. In some scenes, though, the design is wonderful - especially in the "Clap Hands" musical number with Ben Vereen.
As for FUNNY LADY, the movie, it has held up well. Some Streisand fans jokingly refer to the Fanny Brice character in FUNNY GIRL as "good Fanny" and the character in FUNNY LADY as "evil Fanny". The script for FUNNY LADY completely changes the character. Fanny, grown up, is shrewd, cynical, and curt. She calls everyone "kid". After not having seen this film for several years, I think Streisand does a great job! "Fanny Brice" in FUNNY LADY is a true character that Streisand plays with an edge. She's not a particularly attractive character - a little annoying - but, nonetheless, a fully realized character. I think some FUNNY GIRL fans want the melodramatic Fanny back for FUNNY LADY. They want more suffering and torch songs and romance. The love affair in FUNNY LADY is not combustible. James Caan (as Billy) is a schmuck. Fanny sings a song called "Isn't This Better?" One of the lyrics says: "Passion is fine, but passion burns fast. Passion's design seems never to last." FUNNY LADY, I think, is about Fanny's decision to love again, but in a different, "safe and serene" way than she loved Nick in FUNNY GIRL.
While no film could ever recapture the easy charm and beautiful sentiment of FUNNY GIRL, FUNNY LADY is highly entertaining when viewed on it's own terms. Streisand plays the now-hard-bitten Fanny with a depth and maturity that is very different from her characterization in the first film, but almost equally as stunning. Many viewers often complain that James Caan was badly miscast as Billy Rose. While Caan is physically wrong for the role of the short, unattractive Rose, he still comes across as oddly likable, and he has a nice comic chemistry with Streisand. Roddy McDowell is fun as Fanny's assistant, and veteran hoofer Ben Vereen brings down the house with a incredible, almost gravity-defying dance routine. Omar Shariff also returns for two very effective scenes as Nick Arnstein, the man Fanny will always love, but can't seem to live with.
Though Streisand is in terrific singing voice, the song score is a bit more hit-and-miss. The period standards that Streisand vividly performs (particularly the bittersweet "More Than You Know," the gospel-infused "Great Day," and the heart-wrenching "If I Love Again") are absolutely fantastic, however, the heavily-promoted original songs from Cabaret composers Kander and Ebb are a major disappointment. The intended show-stopper "How Lucky Can You Get" is fine number that is made memorable by Streisand's scorching performance, however, the remainder of the original songs ("Blind Date," "Let's Here It For Me") are pretty forgettable despite Streisand's impassioned vocals. Fortunately, these few mediocre numbers (and the rather predictable narrative) are flaws that are very easy to forgive. No, FUNNY LADY doesn't hold a candle to FNNY GIRL, but the film remains a fun and enjoyable ride that should entertain those who loved the original.
About the DVD: The picture quality is excellent - a bit more edge enhancement than there was the FUNNY GIRL DVD, but still great. The sound is also terrific, but I wish Columbia would have at least included the film's original trailer.
She is bitchy because she has been bruised. Notice upon another rewatching of "Funny Girl" how Fanny slowly but surely learns to cover up her pain and anguish through her constant performativity. Whatever innocence was left in her is gone after Nick walked out the door. "Funny Lady" is a worthy sequel because, psychologically, it starts where the last movie leaves off. Fanny must learn to love again. The reason you don't see "sweet Barbra" until the train sequence is because the movie is ABOUT the re-emergence of the sincere woman.
Pay attention to the kinds of lines the writers of both "Funny Girl" and "Funny Lady" give to Fanny Brice. This is the same woman. Only older. Wiser. More bruised. And to those of you who call the movie "cliché," I wonder if you missed the ending.
Is the movie overproduced? Yes. Is it poorly written? No. I would argue that this movie very nearly merits its original in quality, but because it very sincerely tackles the problems of maturity, the problem of Life After Love, its themes may be too complex for those looking only for another tragic love story.
As someone who knows the power of First Love, I found this movie honest and moving, worthy in nearly every way to its prequel, and though there's not enough room in this space to defend it fully, I count myself among those prepared to do so.
The DVD gets four stars because there are no special features.
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