The ’60s was the decade of the movie musical with “West Side Story,” “The Sound of Music,” “My Fair Lady,” and “Oliver!” all taking home Best PIcture. It’s fair to say “Funny Girl” might’ve been on that list had it not came out the same year as “Oliver!” But the Academy had it right in giving this musical romantic comedy’s one Oscar to its best attribute and greatest asset: Barbara Streisand.
Only in her mid-20s and in her big-screen debut, Streisand plays like a veteran. She brings the film to its highest points, makes it bearable through its lowest, is responsible for all of the laughs as well as all the touching moments and she does it while defying the “standards” of beauty in Hollywood.
Streisand’s nose might be the most famous body part in movie history, yet she holds her head high confidently and gives the mirror a smile as she utters the film’s first line “hello, gorgeous.” She’s an average Jewish girl from Brooklyn but here she is — and that’s what makes her perfect as Fanny Brice, the famous Zigfield Follies comedienne.
“Funny Girl” is a typical musical love story only its main character is a famous (and wealthy) musical performer and there’s a bit more attention on the dramatic aspect of her relationship with Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif). As she sings about people who need people being the luckiest in the world, the story becomes less about her rise to fame and more about finding the right man and making him part of her life.
Keeping the focus on Fanny is legendary director William Wyler in one of his last pictures. Wyler keeps us focused on the talented Streisand and together they keep our attention on Fanny’s story — what’s going on in her head. The love story can get awfully bland at times, but its Fanny that keeps our interests and brings the film its few poignant moments.
Streisand has many faces in this film and that’s why she’s so good. She’s not necessarily deeply moving or able to give a truly affecting performance, but she’s believable and she’s honest with the part while also giving it some comedic zing with the over-the-top Jewish New Yorker routine. There might not be any notable epiphanies in her performance, but she clearly guides us through Fanny’s emotions and realization of her own flaws.