Today I’m doing something a little different on Knife Ink Reviews. Instead of looking at recent films, we’re going back in time to 1975, to review a film called Funny Lady. Not that I have a time limit when it comes to what I review, but things of the past have been talked about again and again. Not always, though.
I could be wrong about this, but I’m pretty sure most people forgot about Funny Lady after it came out. Even its Wikipedia article is short and seems to want to get itself overwith. That stands in direct contrast to the film itself, which never ends.
Funny Lady is the sequel to the 1968 movie Funny Girl, the movie version of the Broadway musical loosely based on the life of Ziegfeld star and comedienne Fanny Brice. Funny Girl is notable for being the first major film role for Barbra Streisand, whose performance won her an Academy Award for Best Actress, tied with Katharine Hepburn (who is considered by AFI the greatest actress in film history). So far, that is the only acting tie in Oscar history.
Also, Funny Girl is one of my favorite movies.
Barbra Streisand is just incredible in it, the music is fantastic, the costumes are great, the whole thing is exciting, mesmerizing, and filled with talent. Also, it has Omar Sharif, which is rarely a bad thing. When I say it’s one of those films I could watch over and over again, I’m saying it’s one of those films I did watch over and over again. There was a period of time when I would come home from school and immediately start watching Funny Girl for the fifteen billionth time. And I never got tired of it.
I avoided Funny Lady like the plague, mostly because I knew the music wasn’t written by Jule Styne and I, like Barbra Streisand, apparently, didn’t think a sequel was necessary. That’s right, according to the Wikipedia article, Barbra was extremely against doing a sequel to Funny Girl but finally agreed once she read the script.
Once she read the script.
Once she read the script.
Once she read the…
They must have drugged her. It’s the only explanation. Nobody could read the script of Funny Lady and think it was good. I can’t even imagine the mental condition of the people who wrote it. They must have drugged poor Barbra and then made her do the movie.
Oh, yes, people. Funny Lady is bad. It’s a special kind of bad. It’s the kind of bad that leaves you baffled that something so bad could ever be made by human hands. Oh, where to begin.
(Disclaimer: I should make it very clear that both films, Funny Girl and Funny Lady, are very, very loosely based on Fanny Brice’s life. Therefore, I am only judging the story based on the narrative the films have given me, not by what actually happened in real life. I’m sure it’s very different. These kinds of films often are. That’s not to say that Brice wasn’t important and her life isn’t worth knowing about – on the contrary, she’s a fascinating figure and was of course enormously talented. But I’m only judging what is given to me in the movies. Now, onto the review.)
The most obvious mark of a bad sequel is when it doesn’t seem to get the first movie. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better example of that than Funny Lady (maybe with the exception of the Star Wars prequels, but those are prequels, after all). Therefore, it’s going to be very hard for me to explain why Funny Lady fails miserably as a sequel without explaining the plot of Funny Girl, so, as usual, if you haven’t seen either movie, don’t read the rest of this review.
In Funny Girl, Fanny’s relationship with Nick failed because he couldn’t control his habit of getting into corrupt money situations, and also because he couldn’t handle her growing fame. He didn’t like it when she would get more attention than he would, especially since she very quickly became the breadwinner for their family and all he could do was gamble and tag along to fancy parties. Thus, their relationship crumbled and he was eventually sent to jail for embezzlement.
Funny Girl ends with a stunning performance from Streisand singing “My Man,” a song about how the man she loves doesn’t treat her right and her life is just despair, but she doesn’t care because she’s his forever more. It’s an ending that’ll bring the tears and the house down. And it seems a very fitting, albeit ambiguous, ending for the Fanny presented in this story (again, not the one in real life).
But the real life Fanny had another marriage, and somewhere, some dumbass Hollywood executive said to himself, “bet we can make a blockbuster out of that one, too, can’t we? Let’s just slap some half-written songs together that sound like they possibly could have been written by Jule Styne if he was drunk and falling asleep at his piano, drug Barbra Streisand so that she agrees to do this piss-poor film, make the costumes and sets really spectacular so that people are distracted from the bad storytelling, and plop Omar Sharif in for a few scenes just to remind people that this is indeed a sequel to Funny Girl. It’ll make millions!”
Ah-ha. Sure, Money McDumbass. Sure it will.
The film doesn’t even try in the opening credits, showing us clips from the first film to let us know how much this one’s going to suck. Pretty soon we get introduced to the middle-aged Fanny Brice, who is really just the same apart from being bossier and potty-mouthed. Oh, I forgot to mention that, didn’t I? Fanny curses in this film. Quite a bit, actually. I wouldn’t have a problem with it, except that the screenwriter seemed to feel that having Fanny say a few curse words was all we needed to see how she’s grown and matured.
Bullshit. This Fanny, apart from the cursing and the fact that she’s used to her fame now, is no different from the Fanny in the last film. She’s still the same lovestruck girl, except this time without the spark of passion and radiance and enthusiasm.
Did I say “lovestruck”? Yeah. Fanny’s still in love with Nick. Even in the midst of her developing “relationship” with Billy Rose, Nick is shoved in just to remind us how NOT OVER IT Fanny is. Oh, sure, towards the end she kicks him out and then sings an empowerment ballad on a plane (hmmm, like the empowerment ballad in the first movie which was sung on a boat?), but this is only after a whole movie of her running to Nick and talking about Nick and obsessing over Nick, even after she casually, nonchalantly, and very unromantically marries Billy.
Ugh. Let’s talk about Billy for a moment. They literally get married in the most unromantic way I have ever seen in a movie. Billy says something like, “Let’s just get married,” and she says something like, “Sure fine whatever,” and we don’t even see the wedding and they start arguing and Oh my god it’s so annoying. At least in Funny Girl the romance was believable; it was obvious that Fanny and Nick loved each other a lot, even if eventually they started having problems. In Funny Lady it doesn’t seem like Fanny and Billy like each other at all. They occasionally say they do, like they need each other or whatnot, but there’s nothing in their actions to suggest it.
Oh, and the songs. Let’s talk about the songs. There are a total of three complete songs in this movie. One is the song the film is most famous for, “How Lucky Can You Get,” which is at best okay and at worst trying too hard to be like the songs from Funny Girl. The second is a song called “Clap Hands, Here Comes Charley” which is performed by Ben Vereen and is the only scene in the movie worth watching. The third is “Let’s Hear it For Me,” which is the empowerment ballad and is trying way too hard to be a follow-up of “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” The rest are listed as songs on the film’s soundtrack, but in fact they are only snippets of songs, fractions of songs, and they were obviously completely and carelessly pre-recorded because they’re often sung in the character’s heads.
Which is a shame, because they actually used songs written by the real Billy Rose, but not to the film’s advantage. They don’t perform them as much as they put them in there for the sake of putting them in there.
Hell, Funny Girl did a better job with Billy Rose’s songs than the movie about Billy Rose did! “I’d Rather Be Blue” was written by Billy Rose, and was marvelously performed in Funny Girl.
There are no performances here, or at least there is no passion put into the performances. The exception is Ben Vereen, but I’ll talk about that in a short while.
How’s Barbra? Well, she’s fine – I mean, the woman is more talented than half the planet, so it’s very difficult for her not to be – but there’s an enthusiasm and spark in Funny Girl that is painfully absent here (hence the reason I believe she was drugged).
Oh, and Omar Sharif – Omar Sharif! He looks like they dragged him out of bed and told him he was going to play Nicky Arnstein again, a role he was much too old to play as charmingly as he did in the first movie. Any chemistry Barbra and Sharif had is so lost, it plummets into negative numbers. The scenes between Fanny and Nick are awkward, out of place, and were totally unneeded, and yet they still act like it’s the main plot of the film. I mean, the empowerment ballad is all about her saying no to Nick for the first time! So what is the point of dwelling on this other relationship?
Oh, and the scene where Fanny kicks Nick out – she does so because apparently he hasn’t asked about their daughter in six years. Guess how many times we see their daughter in the film? Twice. Together, the two appearances are, oh, maybe thirty seconds long.
The plot is jumbled, confusing, and out of order. There’s a passage of time that takes place in this movie but you’d barely know it unless you were paying attention very, very closely. In Funny Girl there was a passage of time as well, but it was very cleverly done through song. Here, they just casually mention that they’ve been married for four years. And, like I said at the beginning of the review, it NEVER. ENDS. The film is about an hour and a half but feels like it’s five hours long. And it’s boring, boring, boring stuff.
But there are four small, positive things about this film.
The first is that the costumes are amazing, and I can totally understand putting the film on mute and just looking at it.
The second is that the cinematography is at times quite good. During the “How Lucky Can You Get” sequence, Fanny hits a lamp and the lamp goes slowly spinning in a circle, illuminating her as it passes over her head. That was very well shot.
The third is Ben Vereen’s scene. This really was fun to watch, and it was the only part of the movie I thoroughly enjoyed. Also, you can really tell Ben Vereen is giving his all, which is more than I can say for most of the cast.
The fourth is Barbra. While she does look bored quite often, she’s still a marvelous performer, and I’d rather hear her sing these songs than anyone else. The songs are probably worse than I’ve said they are, but it’s hard to notice sometimes because she takes songs and makes them her own. What can I say? It’s Barbra. She’s the best.
Funny Lady is without a doubt one of the worst sequels I have ever seen in my life. If you like Funny Girl, avoid this one like the plague. Goodness knows I wish I had.