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Funny Lady

Her superfans might disagree, but Barbra Streisand, some one-liners, and a few show tunes do not a great movie make. Funny Lady (1975) is a serviceable enough musical, but it never really comes alive — it feels like a let's-cash-in sequel. The film continues the adventures of burlesque/Broadway star Fanny Brice, picking up where the Oscar-winning Funny Girl (1968) left off. Freshly divorced from love-of-her-life Nicky Arnstein (Omar Sharif, who co-starred in the first movie and reprises his role here) and at loose ends career-wise, Fanny has a fortuitous meeting with brash, ambitious songwriter Billy Rose (James Caan, looking surprisingly like Ben Affleck). The two recognize each other as street-wise kindred spirits and decide to put on a show together. One thing leads to another, and before long Fanny has husband number two. But the pressures of showbiz — plus Fanny's Scarlett O'Hara-like blindness to the fact that she actually loves her new mister — put a strain on Billy and Fanny's union that even Fanny's famous sense of humor can't relieve. The relatively thin plot is really just a way to get from one musical interlude to the next, and there are plenty of 'em (though few are as memorable as Funny Girl's line-up). Fans of La Streisand will appreciate Babs's moments in the spotlight, from the bittersweet "How Lucky Can You Get?" to the empowering "Let's Hear It for Me." And, reveling in Fanny's legendary timing and sense of humor, she cracks one-liners and hams it up on stage; one of the film's highlights is her performance in the comically disastrous opening night of Billy's first (and very over-produced) show. As always, it's refreshing to see this side of Streisand — she's much more fun as a down-to-earth comedienne than as a demanding diva. Caan is charming, if slightly simplistic, as Billy, and it's certainly a hoot to hear him sing show tunes. In the end, though, the movie drags; you can see where Billy and Fanny are headed from the moment they meet, and it shouldn't take as long as it does — in minutes or in songs — to get there. Columbia TriStar's DVD release of Funny Lady offers a rich anamorphic transfer (2.35:1), while full-screen version of the movie promised on the box is nowhere to be found. The Dolby Digital 3.0 audio treats Babs's voice well (other audio options include French 2.0 and an array of subtitles). Only a few extras: filmographies for Streisand, Caan, and director Herbert Ross, a "song highlights" menu that lets you skip straight to one of eight musical number, a trailer for the Streisand film For Pete's Sake, and printed production notes. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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