William Wyler’s adaptation of the hit Broadway musical depicts the rise and reign of larger-than-life star Fanny Brice (Streisand), a popular stage comedienne and singer during the 1930s. Hardly considered a paragon of beauty and grace among the chorines she competed against, Brice worked her way to the top from Manhattan’s Lower East Side slums thanks to sheer talent and tenacity. At the height of her career, she was headlining the Ziegfeld Follies and performing to sold-out crowds. But she had less control over her tumultuous love life, particularly her passionate but doomed relationship with gambler Nick Arnstein (Sharif).
This exuberant musical launched the screen career of Barbara Streisand, who’d originated the role onstage and who’d win an Oscar for her film debut here. Although brimming with splashy costumes and razzle-dazzle musical numbers, this is hardly a frivolous romp: “Funny Girl” is a surprisingly moving film that deals soberly with the pitfalls of celebrity and misguided romance. Forget that the film takes significant liberties with Brice’s real story, or that Sharif and Streisand don’t exactly seem like a match made in heaven; the story still holds you. That said, ultimately what makes this “Girl” triumph is Jule Styne’s fabulous score, and the young lady with the pipes who puts it over. Don’t rain on this parade!