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Funny Lady is the follow-up sequel to the critically acclaimed and Academy Award winning Funny Girl (which introduced the world toBarbra Streisand in her debut film performance - which was ultimately a Oscar winning performance). While the idea of making a sequel was debated and discussed for several years following the success achieved by Funny Girl, star Barbra Streisand was not initially interested in pursuing a sequel to her breakout hit. The concept came closer to fruition after the script was completed. Streisand, having read the screenplay for Funny Lady, considered it a good follow-up and decided to make the sequel Funny Ladyafter all.
From director Herbert Ross (Footloose, Steel Magnolias), Funny Lady picks up the story several years after the events of the first motion-picture and it continues the (somewhat based-in-reality) narrative of following the life and loves of Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand), who was an actual comedian and stage performer. Funny Girl and Funny Lady combined events from her career, love-life, and more and used these events to help form the entertaining and energetic motion-picture musicals. While the real-life events aren't dramatically close enough to call these film efforts docudrama (these are musicals first and foremost) it does certainly add an interesting element to the films.
In Funny Lady, the story picks up with a successful show being performed on the stage by Fanny. Now a seasoned performer, she's a hot-ticket entertainer and artist who is known throughout the entertainment world. She meets a songwriter/producer named Billy Rose (performed in the film by the already-successful James Caan). Rose and Fanny meet and electricity sparks between the two (metaphorically, of course). Fanny is no longer with ex-husband Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif), though the two meet (more than once) in Funny Lady.
Enamored with her and her musical talents, Rose decides to cast Fanny as the top-billing star in a new production. (Unfortunately for Fanny, she only finds out after he's already paid for the ads promoting it). Both enraged and amused by being selected as the star for his new musical she agrees to star it in after he "asks nicely". They begin working on the big production and it's a zinger of a show from a production standpoint. Rose finds that he was not as well prepared: everything goes over-budget and extends beyond what was first planned for the show.
Yet the work continues. As the film and it's story weaves in and out of the production and the lives of the characters it explores, the difficulties of creating a engaging show for audiences, finding happiness (in the relationship between Fanny and Billy), and the relationship ending between Fanny and Nick Arnstein is explored. The story of Funny Lady mainly focuses on Fanny's involvement in the production of the show, her exciting (and tumultuous) romance brewing with songwriter Billy Rose, and whether or not she can move on from her ex-flame Nick Arnstein (who shows up and tries to woo her back despite his own new marriage) and it's these elements which help to form the cohesive glue of the filmmaking and the performances.
Some of the songs used even come from songs created originally by those in Fanny Brice's real-life, such as the real-world Billy Rose. These songs are a huge part of experiencing these films and why they have been so enthusiastically received by audiences. Funny Lady features such musical numbers as "How Lucky Can You Get", "More than You Know", "It's Only a Paper Moon", "Am I Blue", and "(It's Gonna Be A) Great Day". With both the original songs and compositions newly created by composers John Kander and Fred Ebb, Funny Lady has a romantic, exciting, and fun musical sensibility to it that makes it a good follow-up to the musicality of Funny Girl. Though many found the songs to be a few notches below the impressive splendor of Funny Girl,Funny Lady still earned recognition for its songs: it ultimately received nominations by both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes.
This is Barbra's show. Without her, this thing would not exist. Funny Lady is a success, primarily because of her involvement and because of the love audiences have for her. In performing the part with a style uniquely her own and bringing to life the story of Fanny, Streisand makes this a worthy film. Though the film also contains strong performances by production co-stars James Caan and Omar Sharif, it is the elegance and grace of Streisand bringing the show to the forefront of its power: to entertain, to delight, and to be a perfectly realized vehicle for her immense talents. Barbra has such a strong presence as an actor and performer. Her voice is lovely and really brings something unique to each of the songs that she performs.
Though the script was praised by Streisand, screenwriters Jay Presson Allen (born Jacqueline Presson) and Arnold Schulman prove to be somewhat inconsistent. Though the character of Fanny receives some great one-liners and the general flow of the story works well, when it comes to the faux-machismo of Billy Rose the film suffers somewhat and feels dated. The screenplay also seems to struggle to find the perfect note to end the film on with a ending flashing-forward many years without much build-up in-between. Not all of it works well.To their credit, screenwriters Jay Presson Allen and Arnold Schulman do not get to show all of their written work as studio heads reportedly made the film be cut shorter as they felt it had an untimely length (reportedly, sequences involving Fanny and her daughter were large casualties of the editing - this is important to note as the version of the film released barely emphasizes to the audience that Fanny even had a daughter). Certainly, it feels fair to say that not all the issues screenplay-related were the direct result of the efforts of the writers.
Funny Lady does manage to be enormously entertaining even with its occasional flaws because this effort is Barbra's showcase and she makes it work as well as it can. However, director Herbert Ross (who also choreographed the dance numbers) is also a excellent filmmaker with a great level of craft that impresses throughout. Ross knows how to film a scene intricately and creatively and these skills are necessary for any musical production. In the sense of scope and style the work achieved with Funny Lady is certainly commendable. Ross understands dance more than most filmmakers and for a musical production that is a good asset.
Unfortunately, one almost can't help but consider what the film might have looked like under the direction of William Wyler, who directed Ben-Hur, Roman Holiday, and the original Funny Girl. Funny Girl actually featured some of the most amazingly composed aerial shots I have ever seen in cinema. The shot zooming in on Fanny on the train and on the ocean boat, timed expertly with the music, was astonishing. The closest thing to such a shot in Funny Lady is probably found in a routine timed with great hilarity to the goofiness of a giant prop Streisand walks on while paper eyeballs zoom around each eye-frame, to strong comedic effect. There certainly is less of a epic scope to the Funny Lady production, even though it exchanges it for the extra emphasis on the dance numbers themselves. Some viewers might consider this shift a positive but it is also an unfortunate drawback of a stylistic shift between films: making some elements slightly less enjoyable because of the notable differences in approach between Wyler and Ross.
Funny Lady might not be as fondly remembered as the masterpiece Funny Girl, but considering how poor many film sequels can be it's actually nice to see how pleasant and impressive this is: Funny Lady succeeds on a number of levels. Most importantly of all, it's still a wonderful and inventive showcase for its star Barbra Streisand and the song and dance pieces hold up well. Audiences looking for a fine time with a musical could do a lot worse than to experience the charm and style of Funny Lady, though everyonec onsidering watching the film should begin their viewing with the effort that started it all:Funny Girl. Though Funny Girl works a magical spell that is superior to Funny Lady, these are fine and highly complementary films exploring the life and wonder of Fanny Brice.
Funny Lady arrives on Blu-ray with a strong 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded image. Twilight Time continues to impress me with their high bit-rate encodes and strong transfers for the majority of their output. Funny Lady looks splendid. Though there are a few spots which unfortunately show some wear to the print quality, for the most part this is a terrific and satisfactory presentation that feels akin to looking at a beautiful film print. Viewers will experience the film in the highest quality available for it on home media.
Presented in the original 2.39:1 widescreen aspect ratio, Funny Lady impresses with good color, detail, and clarity. The image also retains a naturally filmic presentation with a nice fine grain-structure.
Released on Blu-ray with a lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation in 24 bit depth Funny Lady sounds quite good for the most part with solid dialogue reproduction and clean music clarity and detail. The age of the recordings is somewhat dated, though, and it is clear everything about the presentation is a simple expansion on the original audio: meaning, even though it says it's 5.1 surround sound the bulk of the film presentation will sound more like an expanded stereo mix with occasional minor surround activity (such as a slight opening up of the surrounds for a musical number). It's not a very dynamic sounding mix but the clarity is good. If the presentation isn't perfect in every aspect (as some may want a more lively mix for a musical), at least it's accurate to how the film was supposed to sound.
English SDH subtitles (for the deaf and hard of hearing) are provided.
Twilight Time features the stand inclusion of a booklet with essay on the film by film critic Julie Kirgo.
On disc supplements:
In Search of a Star (9 min.) is a vintage featurette which focuses on the casting of James Caan as a supporting player against Streisand for the Funny Girlfollow-up. It also focuses somewhat on Streisand's role in the production.
The New Look of Barbra in Funny Lady (5 min.) is a piece that looks to explore how Streisand looked in the Funny Lady production. The piece mainly serves to emphasize the costume design efforts by looking at the lovingly detailed costume sketch-designs done by the designer and then showing sequences from the film showcasing Barbra in costume.
Dancing on the Water (3 min.) is a brief behind-the-scenes featurette about the filming of one of the big number's in the film (which was done on water and with a professional swimming team).
Lastly, the Original Domestic Theatrical Trailer and Original International Theatrical Trailer are provided.
Funny Lady is a strong film musical follow-up to the breakout hit Funny Girl, which introduced Barbra Streisand and made her a star as both an actor and musician. Though the film is often unfairly disregarded for being less impressive than the original film is, Funny Lady expands upon the original effectively. Streisand is every bit as good as she was in Funny Girl and she carries the film with her talent, charm, and style. Fans of Streisand and musicals are strongly encouraged to see the film. The presentation and release on Blu-ray by Twilight Time is strong and worth owning for fans.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.