Jarrod Emerson’s Tribute to Omar Sharif
Part 4: FUNNY GIRL (1968)
Part musical, part biopic, Funny Girl tells the story of pioneering stage performer/comedienne “Fanny Brice” (Barbra Streisand). The film chronicles Fanny’s early rise to fame, and romance with professional gambler “Nicky Arnstein” (Sharif). Although Fanny’s career flourishes, the same cannot be said of her turbulent relationship with Nicky. Both happiness and heartbreak occur as Fanny finds her place.
Director William Wyler, (with the assistance of Herbert Ross) creates a truly beautiful, lavish musical on film combining beautiful sets with some breathtaking location shooting. But of course, what is a great musical without a great cast? Admittedly, my initial impression of Barbra Streisand came mainly from seeing her frequently lampooned (as a child of the 90s, South Park comes to mind). However, I always knew she was legendary as a singer, actress and filmmaker. Reprising her role from the stage version, Streisand soars as Fanny Brice. Like Brice herself, Streisand is of course Jewish, unconventionally beautiful, and immensely talented. This makes her perfectly suited for the part. Brice is depicted as struggling to prove herself in a world where many, including her own family initially believe she doesn’t belong. However knowing her talent and unafraid to take risks, Fanny adamantly refuses to back out, ultimately finding her place as a comedic performer. She also is a strong person, perfectly capable of taking care of herself, as we will see in her romance with Nicky.
As gambler Nicky Arnstein, Omar Sharif plays arguably his most debonair character yet, oozing confidence and charm. Sharif is spot on, and he and Streisand play wonderfully off of one another. The two create a perfectly believable romance, particularly in scenes in which Arnstein courts Fanny (further enhanced by some wonderfully neurotic musical numbers), making it all the more heartbreaking when their romance goes south. Like Fanny, Nicky too loves risk taking, earning his living through high-stakes gambling. However, underneath is suave demeanor lies a stubbornness and insecurity that ultimately drives a wedge between he and Fanny, in which we clearly realize that she is the more independent, stronger of the two. Both Streisand and Sharif so a fine job of bringing out the sad part of the romance, as Nicky’s refusal to accept financial help from Fanny only between the two of them. Only a handful of musicals have held up, and With funny, engaging three dimensional characters, Funny Girl is most certainly among them.