Skip to main content

I’m a bagel. I’m a plateful of onion rolls.

Funny Girl

(SPOILERS) Some movies lend themselves to instantly facile, derogatory retitling. The Un-Talented Mr Ripley. And this drudge of a musical that saw Barbra Streisand alight on the big screen like an egg-bound duck. Perhaps it takes a Babs fan to see her movies as the produce of golden geese; I’ll own up to having some catching up to do in order to offer a fair appraisal. Perhaps, if Streisand’s your cup of tea, Funny Girl just flies by. Perhaps, to everyone else, this, the most popular film of its year in the US, is endlessly turgid dross, all two-and-a-half hours of it.

I don’t put this down to a lack of appreciation for musicals, since for the most part, Funny Girl barely resembles one. Long stretches go by without the whiff of a song, and when there is one, it’s largely an intimately staged piece of ho-hum. Indeed, I’m mystified the movie reportedly cost half as much again as Oliver! Whatever you can say about the latter, it’s all up there on screen. All Funny Girl leaves you with is a sense of half-hearted period drabness.

But again, perhaps the “wow” factor of Streisand was everything. Funny Girl was her movie debut, and she’d achieved huge fame as well as awards with the stage version (originally conceived for the screen). There was evidently an appetite for her, not only from audiences but also from critics and the Academy (a stark contrast to Julie Andrews being snubbed when it came to My Fair Lady’s cinema incarnation).

Hollywood’s ’60s love affair with the musical has been cited as a bigger, better, more colourful means of competing with television’s inexorable pull on audiences, and bagging Babs must have seemed like a no-brainer to that end. As told by The Secret History of the Academy Awards, there was some discontent that Streisand was invited to join the Academy’s ranks before she had even made a movie, making it sound almost a fait accompli that she should go on to win Best Actress Oscar (which turned out to be an unusual tie, with Katherine Hepburn for The Lion in Winter). Famed costume designer Edith Head reacted to Streisand’s outfit, comprising see-through, bell-bottom pyjamas, with the succinct “Shocking!”

But everyone was rabid for Streisand, bleh-outfits or not; there was even some inkling of recognition that, beyond her luminary presence, Funny Girl wasn’t all that. Kael gushed all over her, claiming she arrived on screen “when the movies are desperately in need of her”. But she also referred to William Wyler as a “good, solid director” for the project. Which sounds more like an assessment of the nutritious content of porridge than acumen for the musical genre. Roger Ebert was similarly smitten with the star and less enthused by the material. Sidney Lumet had been attached before Wyler, falling out due to disagreements with star and producer Ray Stark. He’d go on to his musical moment of, er, majesty with overblown bomb The Wiz. Wyler had scored as big as they got with Ben-Hur almost a decade prior, but he hadn’t attempted musicals hitherto either. Later asked if Streisand was hard to work with, he responded “No, not too hard, considering it was the first movie she ever directed”.

I knew nothing of Fanny Brice or Ziegfeld Follies prior to the picture, beyond the latter being a revue. Nothing much is really needed in advance, though, to recognise the gist: ugly duckling makes a name for herself, falling for a dashing man who isn’t perhaps as amazing as all that after all. Why, that almost sounds like… A Star is Born. You know, with Streisand still trying to mine the notion of her unlikely stardom nearly a decade later. And audiences were still buying it.

The first half hour of Funny Girl is fine enough in that regard, with Fanny revealed as an effortlessly funny and unlikely contrast to the Ziegfield girls. The slapstick stage routines are well staged and genuinely amusing, be it Fanny causing havoc on roller skates or shocking Walter Pidgeon’s Florenz Ziegfield by performing a finale “pregnant”, to audience ecstasy.

But then Funny Girl sinks like a stone. Omar Sharif, one of the most boring actors ever – Dr Zhivago succeeds in spite of him – arrives as Fanny’s gambler admirer Nicky Arnstein, and every scene between them is dramatic sludge (not even good, solid sludge). Fanny goes from strength to strength and has a sprog, while Nicky gets more and more in debt. And there are a few songs littered along the way. A way that just goes on and on and on.

Wyler treats Funny Girl like a serious movie when there aren’t any songs, but it lacks the spark or momentum to sustain such pretensions. Funny Girl isn’t terrible, but it’s inert. Like porridge. Perhaps audiences secretly thought so too. Or some of them. Streisand’s musical follow-up, Hello, Dolly! really was a grand extravaganza, and its lack of proportionate success helped put the temporary nail in the coffin of the form.

Popular posts from this blog

Ziggy smokes a lot of weed.

Moonfall (2022) (SPOILERS) For a while there, it looked as if Moonfall , the latest and least-welcomed – so it seems – piece of apocalyptic programming from Roland Emmerich, might be sending mixed messages. Fortunately, we need not have feared, as it turns out to be the same pedigree of disaster porn we’ve come to expect from the director, one of the Elite’s most dutiful mass-entertainment stooges, even if his lustre has rather dimmed since the glory days of 2012.

The Illumi-what-i?

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) (SPOILERS) In which Sam Raimi proves that he can stand proudly with the best – or worst – of them as a good little foot soldier of the woke apocalypse. You’d expect the wilfully anarchic – and Republican – Raimi to choke on the woke, but instead, he’s sucked it up, grinned and bore it. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is so slavishly a production-line Marvel movie, both in plotting and character, and in nu-Feige progressive sensibilities, there was no chance of Sam staggering out from beneath its suffocating demands with anything more than a few scraps of stylistic flourish intact.

What’s so bad about being small? You’re not going to be small forever.

Innerspace (1987) There’s no doubt that Innerspace is a flawed movie. Joe Dante finds himself pulling in different directions, his instincts for comic subversion tempered by the need to play the romance plot straight. He tacitly acknowledges this on the DVD commentary for the film, where he notes Pauline Kael’s criticism that he was attempting to make a mainstream movie; and he was. But, as ever with Dante, it never quite turns out that way. Whereas his kids’ movies treat their protagonists earnestly, this doesn’t come so naturally with adults. I’m a bona fide devotee of Innerspace , but I can’t help but be conscious of its problems. For the most part Dante papers over the cracks; the movie hits certain keynotes of standard Hollywood prescription scripting. But his sensibility inevitably suffuses it. That, and human cartoon Martin Short (an ideal “leading man” for the director) ensure what is, at first glance just another “ Steven Spielberg Presents ” sci-fi/fantas

All I saw was an old man with a funky hand, that’s all I saw.

The Blob (1988) (SPOILERS) The 1980s effects-laden remake of a ’50s B-movie that couldn’t. That is, couldn’t persuade an audience to see it and couldn’t muster critical acclaim. The Fly was a hit. The Thing wasn’t, but its reputation has since soared. Like Invaders from Mars , no such fate awaited The Blob , despite effects that, in many respects, are comparable in quality to the John Carpenter classic – and are certainly indebted to Rob Bottin for bodily grue – and surehanded direction from Chuck Russell. I suspect the reason is simply this: it lacks that extra layer that would ensure longevity.

Are you telling me that I should take my daughter to a witch doctor?

The Exorcist (1973) (SPOILERS) Vast swathes have been written on The Exorcist , duly reflective of its cultural impact. In a significant respect, it’s the first blockbuster – forget Jaws – and also the first of a new kind of special-effects movie. It provoked controversy across all levels of the socio-political spectrum, for explicit content and religious content, both hailed and denounced for the same. William Friedkin, director of William Peter Blatty’s screenplay based on Blatty’s 1971 novel, would have us believe The Exorcist is “ a film about the mystery of faith ”, but it’s evidently much more – and less – than that. There’s a strong argument to be made that movies having the kind of seismic shock on the landscape this one did aren’t simply designed to provoke rumination (or exultation); they’re there to profoundly influence society, even if largely by osmosis, and when one looks at this picture’s architects, such an assessment only gains in credibility.

I work for the guys that pay me to watch the guys that pay you. And then there are, I imagine, some guys that are paid to watch me.

The Day of the Dolphin (1973) (SPOILERS) Perhaps the most bizarre thing out of all the bizarre things about The Day of the Dolphin is that one of its posters scrupulously sets out its entire dastardly plot, something the movie itself doesn’t outline until fifteen minutes before the end. Mike Nichols reputedly made this – formerly earmarked for Roman Polanski, Jack Nicholson and Sharon Tate, although I’m dubious a specific link can be construed between its conspiracy content and the Manson murders - to fulfil a contract with The Graduate producer Joseph Levine. It would explain the, for him, atypical science-fiction element, something he seems as comfortable with as having a hairy Jack leaping about the place in Wolf .

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

This risotto is shmackin’, dude.

Stranger Things Season 4: Part I (SPOILERS) I haven’t had cause, or the urge, to revisit earlier seasons of Stranger Things , but I’m fairly certain my (relatively) positive takes on the first two sequel seasons would adjust down somewhat if I did (a Soviet base under Hawkins? DUMB soft disclosure or not, it’s pretty dumb). In my Season Three review, I called the show “ Netflix’s best-packaged junk food. It knows not to outstay its welcome, doesn’t cause bloat and is disposable in mostly good ways ” I fairly certain the Duffer’s weren’t reading, but it’s as if they decided, as a rebuke, that bloat was the only way to go for Season Four. Hence episodes approaching (or exceeding) twice the standard length. So while the other points – that it wouldn’t stray from its cosy identity and seasons tend to merge in the memory – hold fast, you can feel the ambition of an expansive canvas faltering at the hurdle of Stranger Things ’ essential, curated, nostalgia-appeal inconsequentiality.

That, my lad, was a dragon.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) (SPOILERS) It’s alarming how quickly Peter Jackson sabotaged all the goodwill he amassed in the wake of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. A guy who started out directing deliciously deranged homemade horror movies ended up taking home the Oscar for a fantasy movie, of all genres. And then he blew it. He went from a filmmaker whose naysayers were the exception to one whose remaining cheerleaders are considered slightly maladjusted. The Desolation of Smaug recovers some of the territory Jackson has lost over the last decade, but he may be too far-gone to ever regain his crown. Perhaps in years to come The Lord of the Rings trilogy will be seen as an aberration in his filmography. There’s a cartoonishness to the gleeful, twisted anarchy on display in his earlierr work that may be more attuned to the less verimilitudinous aspects of King Kong and The Hobbit s. The exceptions are his female-centric character dramas, Heavenly Creat

Gizmo caca!

Gremlins (1984) I didn’t get to see Gremlins at the cinema. I wanted to, as I had worked myself into a state of great anticipation. There was a six-month gap between its (unseasonal) US release and arrival in the UK, so I had plenty of time to devour clips of cute Gizmo on Film ’84 (the only reason ever to catch Barry Norman was a tantalising glimpse of a much awaited movie, rather than his drab, colourless, reviews) and Gremlins trading cards that came with bubble gum attached (or was it the other way round?). But Gremlins ’ immediate fate for many an eager youngster in Britain was sealed when, after much deliberation, the BBFC granted it a 15 certificate. I had just turned 12, and at that time an attempt to sneak in to see it wouldn’t even have crossed my mind. I’d just have to wait for the video. I didn’t realise it then (because I didn’t know who he was as a filmmaker), but Joe Dante’s irrepressible anarchic wit would have a far stronger effect on me than the un