23 December 2005 | ijonesiii
As Sequels Go, I've Seen Worse...
Barbra Streisand reprised her Oscar-winning role of Fanny Brice in 1975's FUNNY LADY, a big splashy musical that centers around Fanny at the height of her stardom and her stormy relationship with second husband, Billy Rose (James Caan). Much has been written about how unnecessary this sequel was and how it wasn't very factual regarding Fanny and Billy's marriage. First of all, Hollywood has always had sequel-itis. Any movie that makes a decent profit at the box office is going to have a sequel sooner or later. Second, as far as accuracy is concerned, does anyone really think FUNNY GIRL stuck to the facts? FUNNY GIRL was about as close to a factual biography of Fanny Brice as a Harlequin romance novel, but people loved it and Barbra won an Oscar. For what it is, FUNNY LADY is a very entertaining movie with a charismatic starring performance by Streisand as an older, wiser, and more savvy Fanny who is definitely in charge of her own life now...that is, until Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif, in a gratuitous cameo)briefly re-enters her life. The film really focuses on Fanny's relationship with Rose, antagonistic at first but it does grow into a relationship based on mutual respect and affection, but not love or passion, which Fanny had with Nick. I love the scene where Billy proposes to Fanny because it's more like a business merger than a marriage proposal. These people are clearly not in love with each other but they are both lonely and need each other so they agree to a marriage they don't really want. The musical numbers, for the most part, are well-staged if not terribly original. There's a definite "been there done that" feel to some of the numbers. Fanny on stage in an empty theater belting out "How Lucky Can You Get?" reminded me of Fanny on stage in an empty theater belting out "I'm the Greatest Star." And many comparisons have been made to "Let's Hear it from Me" to "Don't Rain on my Parade", except that Fanny takes off in a plane instead of chasing a tugboat. Barbara shines in the "Big Day" production number and her take on two lovely ballads "Isn't this Better?" and "If I Love Again" is memorable. The score effectively combines songs from Fanny's era as well as new songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb (CABARET). Cann is charming as Billy Rose and Sharif has aged surprisingly well. Kudos also to Ben Vereen for his one-show-stopping number, "Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie". Not historically accurate or terribly original, but FUNNY LADY is an entertaining musical with Barbra in top form and her fans will not be disappointed.