Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
Funny Girl / Funny Lady (Boxed Set) (1968, 1975)
"Hello, gorgeous."- Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand)
Stars: Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif, James Caan
Other Stars: Kay Medford, Anne Francis, Walter Pidgeon, Roddy McDowell, Ben Vereen, Carole Wells
Director: William Wyler, Herbert Ross
MPAA Rating: PG for (mild language)
Run Time: 04h:52m:55s
Release Date: 2005-02-22
DVD ReviewNowadays, when people think of Fanny Brice, they invariably envision Barbra Streisand. That may not be fair to Brice, the legendary Ziegfeld Follies comedienne who also introduced one of Tin Pan Alley's most famous torch songs (My Man), but it proves just how indelibly Streisand has etched her portrayal of the gawky Yiddish clown into our collective consciousness. Not much footage exists of the real Brice, and as her memory fades, Streisand's impersonation looms ever larger—and with good reason. Few, if any, actresses could nail the slapstick humor, handle the demanding vocals, and exude the proper degree of Jewishness to do Brice justice, but Streisand effortlessly inhabits the role in not one, but two motion pictures. The richly entertaining Funny Girl, which earned Streisand a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar in her very first film, charts Brice's rise from awkward saloon singer to Ziegfeld stardom, and details her romance with and troubled marriage to suave gambler Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif). Funny Lady, made seven years later, chronicles Brice's post-Follies career, and her troubled second marriage to songwriter-producer Billy Rose (James Caan). Though both films present a highly fictionalized version of Brice's life, Streisand's performance rings true, and makes us believe she is indeed Fanny Brice.
Okay, so we never really forget she's also Barbra Streisand (how could we?), but she masterfully merges the two personas. Sure, Brice wasn't as glamorous as Streisand, sang only half as well, and never married anyone who remotely resembled Sharif or Caan, but who ever said biopics were accurate? The musical format of Funny Girl and Funny Lady makes it somehow easier for us to buy into the romanticized biography, and though the former film markedly outshines the latter, both movies succeed as fine entertainment—which, of course, is their ultimate raison d'être.
Funny Girl would be Oscar-winning director William Wyler's only foray into the musical arena, but he adapts well to the genre, perfectly blending comedy, drama, and the top-notch Jule Styne-Bob Merrill score, which includes such gems as People, I'm the Greatest Star, and You Are Woman, I Am Man. Though Herbert Ross conceived the musical numbers, and thus crafted the film's most famous image—Babs on a tugboat belting the climax of Don't Rain on My Parade—Wyler's artistry holds the film together, and overcomes the timeworn elements of Isobel Lennart's script.
Wit abounds during the film's charming first half, but the more dramatic last act often rips off A Star Is Born as it depicts the crumbling Arnstein-Brice marriage, and how Nick struggles to maintain his pride and masculine identity in the face of Fanny's success. Cases in point include a ship steward calling Arnstein "Mr. Brice," and a business associate making a crack about how Arnstein could live comfortably on his wife's earnings. (Just like A Star Is Born, the confrontation transpires at a racetrack.) Streisand even gets her own "this-is-Mrs.-Norman-Maine" moment when she tearfully sings My Man after agreeing to a divorce. (And if that performance doesn't make you a little farklempt, nothing will.)
Yet despite these similarities and myriad historical inaccuracies, Funny Girl remains one of the great musicals of the 1960s, and a spectacular showcase for Streisand's formidable talent. The singer-actress would make more than a dozen films over the next 35 years, but she's never been seen to better advantage or handled with more care (even when she directed herself) than in Funny Girl.
Funny Lady finds Streisand in full diva mode, exquisitely singing both old standards and a sparkling collection of new tunes by John Kander and Fred Ebb—all as she models a jaw-dropping array of outlandish, overtly sexy gowns in which Fanny Brice wouldn't be caught dead. The dress Streisand wears while ripping through the showstopper How Lucky Can You Get features a neckline that plunges to her navel, and a backline that ventures even further south. Both director Herbert Ross and Streisand herself often lose sight of Brice in this bloated, occasionally dull sequel that sacrifices story for big production numbers during the sluggish first hour, then races through the nine-year Brice-Rose marriage in about 45 minutes. That's far too little time to depict the couple's differences, let alone resolve the complications posed by the return of Arnstein (again played by Sharif) and Fanny's ambivalent feelings toward him.
In Funny Girl, Streisand believably performs Brice's on-stage musical numbers in the comedienne's goofy, self-deprecating fashion—leaving the more complex, Barbra-esque vocalizing for private, off-stage moments. Funny Lady, however, blurs those lines, as it all but excises Brice's lunacy and instead tries to pass off the star as a serious singer á la Streisand. Although it's easy to revel in Barbra's glorious vocals, it's impossible to imagine Brice tackling such complicated arrangements or producing such pure, polished tones. (Great Day and If I Love Again are Streisand tour de forces, but light years away from anything Brice would have attempted.) To her credit, Streisand nicely transitions Fanny into middle age, adopting a cynical coarseness that adds some spice to her relationship with Rose and welcome dimension to her character. Of course, just as Sharif is far more handsome than the real Arnstein, Caan in no way looks like the short, pudgy Rose. Still, Caan files a feisty, often sensitive portrayal, and more than holds his own with La Streisand.
Funny Lady possesses plenty of merits—good performances, a first-rate score, opulent production values, and a visual lushness that's "like buttah"—but when evaluated side by side with Funny Girl, it can't help but come up short. Like many sequels, it tries too hard to compete with and outdo its beloved predecessor, both in length and style, and ends up a pale imitation. Even the exhilarating Let's Hear It for Me loses some oomph by too closely mirroring Don't Rain on My Parade. Instead of Babs on a tugboat, we get Babs on a biplane, soaring into the clouds as Brice races to tell Billy she's successfully flushed Arnstein from her system—a plot device eerily reminiscent of Scarlett rushing to Rhett at the climax of Gone With the Wind. Oh, how the real Fanny would have gotten a kick out of that!
Brice once quipped, "With Nick Arnstein, I was miserably happy. With Billy Rose, I was happily miserable." And thanks to this handsome box set from Sony, we can witness both rocky relationships, as well as the spectacular singing and unique magnetism of Barbra Streisand. The one and only Babs honors Brice with a heartfelt portrayal worthy of all the accolades it received—and one that hopefully will keep the comedienne's memory burning bright for generations to come.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
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Image Transfer Review: Both Funny Girl and Funny Lady have been previously released on DVD, and this new boxed set merely repackages those editions. The transfers thus remain the same, but since both films underwent recent image overhauls, there's little to kvetch about here. Funny Girl, despite faint but consistent speckling, looks like a brand new movie, filled with rich, vibrant color, stunning clarity, and excellent shadow detail. Streisand's creamy complexion and Sharif's olive skin are both well rendered, and the opulent Ziegfeld Follies sequences sparkle. Blacks are inky, and the lavish costumes and sets enjoy sumptuous saturation. A bit of grain—most noticeable during the complex aerial shots of Don't Rain on My Parade—lends the movie a warm, film-like feel reminiscent of the great Hollywood musicals of yore. Unfortunately, a number of white specks pop up against the jet-black backdrop of the climactic My Man number, somewhat diminishing the impact of Streisand's powerful performance, but otherwise this is a beautiful restoration of a bona fide classic.
Funny Lady looks even better, dazzling the eye with a crisp hi-def image that beautifully suits the film's overblown production numbers and glitzy feel. Once again, colors leap off the screen, and the cinematography by the legendary James Wong Howe exudes a luxurious lushness only a master of his caliber could achieve. (Sadly, Funny Lady would be his final film.) Contrast is superb, fleshtones remain natural and stable throughout, and edge enhancement is utterly absent. Only minimal print defects dot the transfer, which possesses a fresh, bright sheen makes this old-fashioned musical seem very contemporary.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Funny Girl is the clear winner here, with a marvelously remastered DD 5.0 track. Stereo separation is faint but audible, and any hiss, pops, or crackles have been erased. Although a lovely depth of tone is present throughout and dialogue is always easily understood, the track really shines during the musical numbers. Levels remain stable, but fidelity increases as Streisand's voice dances across all five speakers, immersing us in the Styne-Merrill score. When Streisand soars on People, Don't Rain on My Parade, and My Man, the track keeps pace, and even the loudest notes resist distortion. As an added bonus, the film's overture and entr'acte music are also included on the disc.
Less satisfying, Funny Lady offers only a DD 3.0 track, and the difference is distinct. The front-heavy mix requires a volume boost to help replicate the Funny Girl results, and the songs never achieve the same dynamic range. The lack of envelopment removes us ever so slightly from the action, even though dialogue is completely comprehendible and no surface noise mars the presentation. Subtle details (such as footsteps) don't possess the same degree of clarity, but the track is clean and provides fully adequate sound.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 56 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Mirror Has Two Faces, For Pete's Sake, The Prince of Tides
Packaging: Box Set
Extras Review: Funny Girl supplies a few noteworthy extras, but sadly, a Streisand commentary track isn't one of them. Instead, we're treated to song highlights, a trio of Streisand trailers, filmographies for Wyler, Streisand, Sharif, and Walter Pidgeon (who portrays Florenz Ziegfeld), and two vintage featurettes. The first of these, Barbra in Movieland, actually focuses on Charlie Peterson, the caretaker of the abandoned Hoboken train station where the bulk of Don't Rain on My Parade was shot. "They turned me and the station upside down," Peterson recalls, but the experience brought the four-decade railroad veteran a newfound respect for the motion picture industry. Extensive backstage footage, punctuated by reminiscences from Peterson (who can be seen briefly in the finished film), gives us a glimpse of how Wyler and Herbert Ross put together this massive number, which reportedly cost $250,000. The 10-minute piece also includes shots of Streisand relaxing on the set, arriving in New York with infant son Jason Gould, and—in a bit of professional foreshadowing—peering through the camera lens.
Less interesting, This Is Streisand runs five-and-a-half minutes, and audaciously introduces the diva to film audiences by comparing her smile to that of the Mona Lisa, and her profile to Egyptian queen Nefertiti. We're told of the star's "unconventional" beauty but "indisputable" talent, and a vast array of stills from the movie and rundown of her theatrical accomplishments prove the point. The tugboat finale from Don't Rain on My Parade concludes this gushy tribute.
Funny Lady really skimps in the extras department, offering only song highlights, filmographies for Streisand, Caan, Herbert Ross, and Roddy McDowell, and the same For Pete's Sake trailer that's included on the Funny Girl disc. It's a shame Sony couldn't—or wouldn't—produce new behind-the-scenes documentaries for these two beloved films, both of which deserve more lavish supplements than those included here. Also missing in this edition are the informative production notes that added welcome historical perspective to the previous DVD releases.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsHow lucky can we get! Sony packages Barbra Streisand's two iconic turns as comedienne Fanny Brice in a handsome box set at a reasonable price. Though Funny Girl is hands down a better film, Funny Lady depicts the next phase of Brice's life with humor, warmth, and an engaging sharpness the first movie lacks. Both discs feature excellent transfers and solid audio, and though a few more extras (especially on Funny Lady) would have made this set truly special, nothing can rain on Barbra's very impressive parade. Highly recommended.
David Krauss 2005-03-03