Play It Again – Funny Lady

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By Jess Lomas
March 19, 2013

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

 

Proving sequels rarely exceed the original, we submit for your consideration Herbert RossFunny Lady. Oy, what a mess. Seven years on from Funny Girl, we are reunited with legendary star of the stage Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand), minus one husband, Nicky Arnstein (Omar Sharif), and much of her fortune, thanks to the stock market crash.

There’s a new love interest afoot for Fanny – up-and-coming showman/lyricist Billy Rose (James Caan) – but she still struggles to let go of her feelings for Nicky, who draws her in despite his new marriage. Fanny helps mould Billy’s Atlantic City musical flop into a sold-out Broadway show, boosting both their careers and pushing them further into a marriage of convenience that is doomed from the beginning.

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It’s hard not to feel disappointed almost immediately with Funny Lady, especially in comparison to William Wyler’s predecessor, which was a wonderful musical despite several shortcomings. Ross (Footloose) steers this shipwreck with a screenplay by Arnold Schulman and Jay Presson Allen, the latter of whom delivered the exceptional musical Cabaret just three years earlier.

The picture could do with a thirty minute edit, and there are less memorable musical numbers this time around. There’s a questionable inclusion of a synchronised swimming routine (which, while lovely, demonstrates Ross’ desire for style over substance), as well as a lively yet redundant number from the show-stopping Ben Vereen (All That Jazz). While some of the stage production routines are entertaining, the off-stage aspect is largely underwhelming.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the leading lady herself. Streisand created a tough performance to follow; her feature debut in Funny Girl earned her an Academy Award, and made millions fall in love with her Fanny Brice. Here, Fanny’s ego is so inflated that her character is entirely unlikable. Streisand took Fanny from a relatable underdog to a hideous caricature. Funny Lady not only fails as a sequel but as a standalone film; fans of Barbra and musicals should avoid like the plague.

1.5/5

Funny Lady is available on DVD. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix Play.

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