Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Women of 1975: Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand in “Funny Lady”

Grade: ***

One of only two actresses ever to be involved in an Oscar tie, Barbra Streisand returned seven years after her triumphant turn as Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl” to reprise the role in its handily-titled sequel “Funny Lady.” Switching up established legend William Wyler for man-of-the-moment Herbert Ross the film unsurprisingly failed to live up to its predecessor, garnering mixed reviews despite a slew of praise for Streisand herself. This sequel is far from terrible, but neither does it evolve Brice’s tepid story into something worthwhile, benefitting from the charm of an assured James Caan, but otherwise a colourful failure. 

While through the course of “Funny Lady” the journey from ‘girl’ to ‘lady’ begins to ring true, Brice is still a dramatic entertainer on and off the stage, and still relatively hopeless in love. Far more primed for the prospect of eventual heartache, Streisand imparts a cynicism in Brice she herself may have adopted in the period between the two films – in which she divorced Elliot Gould – rattling off trademark one-liners with more caustic impact, and much warier in flirtation than her younger portrayal. She and Caan have more chemistry as opposing forces than Streisand mustered with a dull, uptight Walter Matthau in “Hello, Dolly!” because the actress knows how to come across as conservative without alienating the viewer. In many ways Fanny is reckless, but she isn’t the impulsive, thrill-seeking performer of all those years ago, more of a genuine diva these days, tired of trying too hard and blaming everyone else for her misfortune. 

It’s possible that the biggest obstacle for Streisand in “Funny Lady” is that she doesn’t feel ready to be this much of a showbusiness stalwart, where her energetic presence can’t always be put to good use. As an actress who always seems younger than the roles she’s playing, this lady is still a breath of fresh air, but the film doesn’t afford her the showcase of pizzazz that the original required of a debutante motivated and expected to claim everyone’s attention. Streisand’s shtick feels worn here; in part two of a series which has already trod on the juicier aspects of Brice, and which increasingly feels like a soapy episode with nothing else to say about her. This is still great work within the confines of “Funny Lady” itself, but really we’ve seen it all before.

Accolades: Golden Globe Nomination (Best Actress in a Leading Role, Comedy/Musical)

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