I'm A Bagel On A Plate Full Of Onion Rolls: Funny Girl (1968)

I must admit that my growing up in a world of South Park and Family Guy created a certain expectation of Barbara Streisand as being this over-the-top and over-the-hill performer whose dramatics and larger than life sensibilities were a thing to be mocked, this information was of course all procured without every actually seeing a single film involving Streisand, or hearing any of her music for that matter.  Since those days that seem so long ago I have come to understand Streisand as a legitimate performer and a woman more than capable of singing.  Sure she has a certain degree of maudlin about her performances, just check out her homage to Marvin Hamlisch at this years Oscars.  Yet to completely dismiss her as a performer is illogical, it is simply a performance method that works surprisingly well for her stylistically and represents the theatricality that seems to evidence Streisand's staying power.  No worries if this is all a bit new, I only came to this realization after watching Funny Girl yesterday as a part of this month of women oriented film, of which, I knew I could not overlook Streisand.  In this film, much is to be said about her commitment to theatricality as a means to acknowledge her otherness, both as a Jewish woman and one whose body image does not necessarily reflect that of the societal mythologized ideal.  Through an embracing of humor, Streisand and director William Wyler depict a larger social commentary within a rather normal musical.  I say that not to dismiss it cinematically, it is by no means the most stellar musical I have ever seen, but it does take its critical lens very seriously and nearly deserves unadulterated praise for that alone.  While, Streisand makes the film comedic, she is also very aware of the seriousness of the narrative, particularly as it relates to expectations in a heteronormative relationship, something that can prove disparaging when both parties have not laid out their expectations from the onset.  Overall, Funny Girl does not stand out as a flawless piece of filmmaking and suffers from its misguided concern for showiness, yet Barbara Streisand is phenomenal and certainly deserved the Oscar she obtained, as a result, and just to reemphasize this fact, Streisand can sing, and she sure shows it in this film.

Funny Girl centers on Fanny Brice (Barbara Streisand) a now successful Broadway performer who is setting introspectively in the theater putting on a recent production of Ziegfeld Follies, for which she is the star.  The film then moves to a flashback, in which viewers are shown Fanny's twisting and unconventional move to stardom from being the object of affection in her crowded Jewish home to making a name for herself not as an outright Broadway beauty, but for learning to embrace her considerable attractiveness, while also using her unconventional looks as a means to poke fun at her performances, something crowds love, despite the frustration of her manager.  During one of her early performances she meets Nick Arnstein (Omar Scharif) an exotic horse racer and gambler who takes an instant liking to Fanny, to which she is more than welcoming, finding his dark features and suave mannerisms to be captivating.  The narrative then moves into Fanny and Nick learning to navigate their decidedly different lifestyles, for Fanny constant traveling and for Nick needing to stay put when luck suits him to do so.  However, one thing is clear the two care deeply for each other and eventually agree to get married, something that both embrace dearly, yet no amount of affirmation can help to contest their truly unique lifestyles and when Nicky fails to attend one of Fanny's performances due to riding a hot hand of gambling the two have a considerable falling out, yet, Fanny knows he was only doing what he thought to be in his best interests.  When it is revealed that Nicky has accrued huge debts she attempts to help him by providing him with a job prospect, but his desire to be self-made causes him to refuse, ending up with him becoming involved in an illegal bond trade and subsequent arrest, all the while Fanny trucks along with her career, up until the moment from the films opening, where she is now revealed to be sitting and awaiting the return of her loving husband, while also realizing that the world she exists in is something she obtained almost entirely on her own, aside from an initial white lie on the part of Nicky to expedite the process.

Funny Girl almost mocks the assumption that everything financial should necessarily involve a masculine presence.  While Ziegfeld the character is certainly present in the narrative and finances many of the performances in which Fanny earns her reputation, she refuses to adhere to the uniformed rigidity associated with such situations, much to his dismay, although he realizes that attempting to subdue anything that is Fanny would be to ruin her stardom and presence on stage.  Even her husband Nicky proves to contradict the image of masculine provision, in that he makes money intermittently and is always seemingly lost within moments to follow, yet he finds it impossible not to navigate the capitalist fueled world of bourgeois decadence, complete with phallic cigars, near empty brandy sifters and thousand dollar bills.  It would be easy to state that Nicky has a gambling problem, yet, when he has a chance to win money against Fanny's family with a sure hand he refuses to do so, perhaps solely as a result of respect, but more likely a result of his assumptions of money and masculinity.  His choice to not take money from these women is somewhat ironic, because it is made rather obvious that these woman have managed to create a space all their own completely detached from masculine provisions.  Sure it is not as lavish and luxurious a world as the card rooms where Nicky plays, or the crystallized worlds of Fanny's stages, but they are happy in their self-sufficiency and ability to navigate their world with considerable success.  This is clearly something that influences Fanny as she uses it as an inspiration to strive for career advancement, which she does, despite being and othered other.  The closing scenes of her occupying an entire theater only speak to how successful she has become with her economic endeavors, which, unlike Nicky, are backed by mental comfort as well.

Key Scene:  The rollerskating scene is hilarious and well done and helps to explain why this film gets referenced so frequently as one of the best musicals of all time.

This did not blow me away by any means, but it has a historical relevance and says some interesting things within its narrative, as such I strongly encourage renting it, or finding a streaming version.

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