It’s easy being funny
When you’re wallowing in money
With your sweet and faithful honey
Waiting lovingly at hand,
But when assets aren’t as runny
And the outlook’s less than sunny,
Not as much is fun or funny,
As the jokers understand.
Though life enjoys unveiling
Every foible, flaw, and failing,
Making efforts unavailing,
One’s good humor perseveres,
So while waiting, maybe wailing,
For a way to smoother sailing,
It’s important and unfailing
To keep laughing through the tears.
MPAA rating: PG (PG-13 is better due to language)
When I first saw Barbra Streisand’s Oscar-winning performance in Funny Girl, I wasn’t aware she had reprised the role of Fanny Brice in Funny Lady seven years later. It took my VC to suggest seeing this less prestigious follow-up, and honestly it proves that Hollywood’s fondness for unnecessary and unsatisfying sequels is nothing new.
Following the sad conclusion of Funny Girl, where Brice’s marriage to Nicky Arnstein (Omar Sharif) broke up amid financial tension and scandal, Funny Lady sees Brice solid in her stardom but struggling for work like everyone else due to the Great Depression. Enter James Caan as smooth-talking songwriter and showman Billy Rose, whose ego dwarfs Fanny’s diva mentality to the point that he advertises her as part of his new show without even asking her first. Annoyed but somehow charmed, she agrees, and their working relationship gradually turns to romance.
I can’t say that Streisand and Caan aren’t good in their roles, but they had hardly any chemistry, in sharp contrast to Sharif’s allure in the first film. Fanny’s songful suggestion that her second relationship is better thus feels hollow when their bond seems founded on the fact that they can simply yell at each other without either taking it personally.
I suppose Funny Girl’s tragic romance had more impact because it was preventable, torn apart by Nicky’s pride opposite Fanny’s success; here, Billy Rose’s huckster personality seemed inevitably fated for marital friction and infidelity, and it’s no surprise when things fall apart again. Worsening matters is Fanny’s confrontation with her first husband (Sharif returns), where she confesses to starry-eyed naiveté in the face of his selfishness. It may be true, but it’s not empowering as she intends it to be; instead, it’s sad that all of her romances were doomed from the start, robbing her of even the memory of a happy love life.
Aside from Streisand’s intermittent comedic skits, what makes Funny Lady watchable is the musical numbers, though there are far fewer show-stopping numbers than the first film, and none are as memorable as “People” or “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” In fact, it’s ironic that the best number goes not to Streisand, but to Ben Vereen as one of Fanny’s vaudeville cohorts, an exuberant rendition of “Clap Hands! Here Comes Charley!” that made me wish the rest of Vereen’s performance hadn’t been cut out before release. I’m actually rather surprised the film earned five Oscar nominations, including Cinematography, Score, and Original Song. If you enjoyed Funny Girl or are a fan of Streisand or Caan, Funny Lady may be worth your time, but don’t expect a feel-good classic.
Rank: Honorable Mention
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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