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Funny Girl

Barbra Streisand made her big-screen debut in this ballyhooed yet surprisingly nondescript 1968 musical extravaganza, starring as legendary stage comedienne Fanny Brice, whose career in the Ziegfeld Follies made her a household name, but whose marriage to gambler Nick Arnstein caused her grief. Director William Wyler mounts a respectable production with a decent cast and a lavish recreation of Ziegfeld's splendor, but neither he nor screenwriter Isobel Lennart (who adapted from her and lyricist Bob Merrill's play) seem to have any idea how to make Brice dramatically interesting. As a central character, she is stultifying static, with only her "unconventional" looks for conflict. However, if the film had been made about Arnstein — wonderfully played by Omar Sharif — they might have been on to something, as the playboy impulsively marries Brice, only to later feel intimidated by her fame, wealth, and success. Unfortunately, Arnstein's plight only surfaces with 40 minutes to go, the previous two hours spent on nicely crafted but dramatically pointless, unmotivated song-and-dance numbers. Composer Jules Styne — who in the same period hit big with another, far superior show biz-themed musical, Gypsy — displays a lack of inspiration, forging forgettable songs that never advance or augment the story. It's nakedly apparent that Funny Girl was simply an excuse to stick Streisand onscreen and let her howl, and while that's enough for her legion of die-hard fans (and the Academy, who awarded her perhaps the most dubious ever Oscar for Best Actress), it's likely to leave true musical fans asking "So what?" Songs include the achingly dull Streisand standards "People" and "Don't Rain on My Parade." Columbia TriStar's DVD presents a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from a source-print that shows only minimal damage, as well as digitally remastered Dolby Digital 5.0 and 2.0 soundtracks. Two featurettes are included, Barbra in Movieland and This is Streisand, both of which make for odd and funny and briefly fascinating time capsules. Song highlights, trailers. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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