Set in and around New York City just prior to and following World War I, the story opens with Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice awaiting the return of husband Nicky Arnstein from prison, and then moves into an extended flashback focusing on their meeting and marriage.
Fanny is first seen as a stage-struck teenager who gets her first job in vaudeville and meets the suave Arnstein following her debut performance. They continue to meet occasionally over the years, becoming more romantically involved as Fanny's career flourishes and she becomes a star. Arnstein eventually seduces Fanny, who decides to abandon the Follies to be with him.
After winning a fortune playing poker while traveling aboard the RMS Berengaria, Nicky agrees to marry Fanny. They move into an expensive house and have a daughter, and Fanny eventually returns to Ziegfeld and the Follies. Meanwhile, Nicky's various business ventures fail, forcing them to move into an apartment. Refusing financial support from his wife, he becomes involved in a bonds scam and is imprisoned for embezzlement for eighteen months.
Following Nicky's release from prison, he and Fanny agree to separate.Barbra Streisand as Fanny BriceOmar Sharif as Nicky ArnsteinKay Medford as Rose Stern BorachAnne Francis as Georgia JamesWalter Pidgeon as Florenz ZiegfeldLee Allen as Eddie RyanMae Questel as Mrs. StrakoshGerald Mohr as BrancaFrank Faylen as KeeneyMittie Lawrence as Emma
Although originally released on her 1964 album People, the song "People" was re-recorded for the film with a different tempo and additional lyrics.
In the 1985 book Barbra Streisand: The Woman, the Myth, the Music by Shaun Considine, composer Styne revealed he was unhappy with the orchestrations for the film. "They were going for pop arrangements," he recalled. "They dropped eight songs from the Broadway show and we were asked to write some new ones. They didn’t want to go with success. It was the old-fashioned MGM Hollywood way of doing a musical. They always change things to their way of vision, and they always do it wrong. But, of all my musicals they screwed up, Funny Girl came out the best."
Because the songs "My Man", "Second Hand Rose", and "I’d Rather Be Blue" frequently were performed by the real Brice during her career, they were interpolated into the Styne-Merrill score.
The soundtrack album to the film was released by Columbia Records in 1968.
Isobel Lennart originally wrote Funny Girl as a screenplay for a drama film entitled My Man for producer Ray Stark, but when he offered it to Mary Martin, she suggested it might work better as a stage musical. Lennart consequently adapted her script for what eventually became a successful Broadway production starring Barbra Streisand.
Although she had not made any films, Streisand was Stark's first and only choice to portray Brice onscreen. "I just felt she was too much a part of Fanny, and Fanny was too much a part of Barbra to have it go to someone else," he said, but Columbia Pictures executives wanted Shirley MacLaine in the role instead. MacLaine and Streisand were good friends and shared a birthday; both actresses rolled their eyes at the idea. Stark insisted if Streisand were not cast, he would not allow a film to be made, and the studio agreed to his demand.
Mike Nichols, George Roy Hill, and Gene Kelly were considered to direct the film before Sidney Lumet was signed. After working on pre-production for six months, he left the project due to "creative differences" and was replaced by William Wyler, whose long and illustrious award-winning career never had included a musical film; he originally was assigned to direct The Sound of Music. Wyler initially declined Stark's offer because he was concerned his significant hearing loss would affect his ability to work on a musical. After giving it some thought, he told Stark, "If Beethoven could write his Eroica Symphony, then William Wyler can do a musical."
Streisand had never heard of Wyler, and when she was told he had won the Academy Award for Best Director for Ben-Hur, she commented, "Chariots! How is he with people, like women? Is he any good with actresses?" As for Wyler, he said, "I wouldn’t have done the picture without her." Her enthusiasm reminded him of Bette Davis, and he felt she "represented a challenge for me because she’s never been in films, and she’s not the usual glamour girl".
Styne wanted Frank Sinatra for the role of Nicky Arnstein, but the actor was willing to appear in the film only if the role was expanded and new songs were added for the character. Stark thought Sinatra was too old and preferred someone with more class like Cary Grant, even though Grant was eleven years older than Sinatra. Marlon Brando, Gregory Peck, Sean Connery, David Janssen, and James Garner were also considered. Egyptian Omar Sharif was cast to star opposite the Jewish Streisand after Wyler noticed him having lunch in the studio commissary. When the Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt broke out, studio executives considered replacing Sharif, but both Wyler and Streisand threatened to quit if they did. Later, the publication of a still depicting a love scene between Fanny and Nicky in the Egyptian press prompted a movement to revoke Sharif's citizenship. When asked about the controversy, Streisand replied, "You think the Egyptians are angry? You should see the letter I got from my Aunt Rose!" Anne Francis was cast in a new role as the lead chorine in the Ziegfeld Follies.
Choreographer Herbert Ross, who staged the musical numbers, had worked with Streisand in I Can Get It for You Wholesale, her Broadway debut.
Principal photography began in August 1967 and was completed by December. During pre-recording of the songs, Streisand had demanded extensive retakes until she was satisfied with them, and on the set she continued to display her perfectionist nature, frequently arguing with Wyler about costumes and photography. She allegedly had so many of her scenes with Anne Francis cut before the film's release that Francis sued to have her name removed from the credits, but lost. Streisand later claimed she never told Wyler to cut anything and the final film reflected his choices, not hers. Francis later said "I have no feud with Barbra. But doing that film was like Gaslight. What infuriated me was the way they did things—never telling me, never talking to me, just cutting. I think they were afraid that if they were nice to me, Barbra would have been upset."
In her book Talking Back: Images of Jewish Women in American Popular Culture, Joyce Antler writes that Streisand has created several rich images of a Jewish woman within film, Funny Girl being one of them. In Funny Girl, Antler writes, Streisand is able to portray a character that is obviously Jewish, and in this role she creates a space for the intelligent Jewish woman to be depicted. When Streisand appeared in Funny Girl, for the first time, a Jewish woman was on screen with Jewish features, a Jewish name and Jewish mannerisms. In this role the Jewish woman was presented as smart, comedic, beautiful and talented. During the time this film was made, Jewish women had the stereotype of being dependent upon men. Yet Streisand tends to defy this stereotype. Jews are often over represented statistically in the field of humor, yet this could be what gives Jews the edge on making people laugh. Streisand takes the battle between the sexes, the double standard, and sexuality in a funny and shrewd way by stretching the boundaries beyond respectability and behaving in unladylike ways. Streisand's character in the film literally portrays a "funny girl" with her body, voice, gesture, and character, tying together her Jewishness and oddness. The film values women over men and portrays the men as dependent to their women; it reverses the gender roles. Funny Girl helped change the way women were viewed and used comedy to inflect Jewish mockery.
Streisand was widely praised by critics, with The New Yorker's Pauline Kael calling it "A bravura performance (...). As Fanny Brice, she has the wittiest comic inflections since the comediennes of the 30s; she makes written dialogue sound like inspired improvisation. (...) Streisand's triumphant talent rides right over the film's weaknesses." In his review in Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert called Streisand "magnificent" and added, "She has the best timing since Mae West, and is more fun to watch than anyone since the young Katharine Hepburn. She doesn't actually sing a song at all; she acts it. She does things with her hands and face that are simply individual; that's the only way to describe them. They haven't been done before. She sings, and you're really happy you're there." But he thought "the film itself is perhaps the ultimate example of the roadshow musical gone overboard. It is over-produced, over-photographed and over-long. The second half drags badly. The supporting characters are generally wooden . . . That makes the movie itself kind of schizo. It is impossible to praise Miss Streisand too highly; hard to find much to praise about the rest of the film."
Variety said Streisand makes "a marked impact" and continued, "The saga of the tragi-comedienne Fanny Brice of the ungainly mien and manner, charmed by the suave card-sharp Nicky Arnstein, is perhaps of familiar pattern, but it is to the credit of all concerned that it plays so convincingly."
David Parkinson of Empire rated the film four out of five stars and called it "one of those films where it doesn't really matter what gets written here - you will have made your mind up about Babs one way or the other, but for the rare uninitiated, this is a fine introduction to her talents."
The film holds a 92% 'Fresh' rating on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, based on 39 reviews, with an average rating of 7.6/10. The site's consensus states: "Barbara Streisand elevates this otherwise rote melodramatic musical with her ultra-memorable star turn as Fanny Brice." On Metacritic, the film has an 89 out of 100 rating, based on 7 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Awards and nominations
In addition to Streisand's Oscar win as Best Actress, the film was nominated in the categories of Best Picture, Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Medford, Best Cinematography for Stradling, Best Film Editing for Sands and Winetrobe, Best Score of a Musical Picture- Original or Adaptation for Walter Scharf, Best Original Song for the title tune by Styne and Merrill, and Best Sound.
Funny Girl, along with Columbia Pictures' other Best Picture nominee and eventual winner Oliver!, secured a combined total of 19 nominations, the most nominations for musicals from one studio in a year.
Streisand won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, and nominations went to the film, Wyler, and Styne and Merrill for the title song.
Streisand won the David di Donatello for Best Foreign Actress (Barbra Streisand, winner; tie with Tied with Mia Farrow for Rosemary's Baby and Golden Laurel for Best Female Comedy Performance.
Streisand was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and nominations went to Stradling for Best Cinematography and Irene Sharaff for Best Costume Design.
Lennart won the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Musical, and Wyler was won Society of Operating Cameramen's Historical Shot for "the medium shot of Barbra Streisand standing on the bow, singing "Don't Rain on My Parade" then pulling back out to an amazing aerial point of view of the tugboat" and nominated for the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing - Feature Film. William Sands, Robert Swink, Maury Winetrobe also nominated for the American Cinema Editors Award for Best Edited Feature Film
"Hello, gorgeous" are the first words uttered by Streisand in the film. After winning the Academy Award for Best Actress, Streisand's first comment when handed the Oscar statuette was "Hello, gorgeous."
Since the release of the film, "Hello, gorgeous" has been referenced in several films. The line appeared as the name of the salon where Angela (Michelle Pfeiffer's character) worked in Married to the Mob. The line was also uttered by the character Max Bialystock in the film and Broadway show The Producers, but the inflection used by Zero Mostel in the 1967 film is different from that used by Streisand. The line is also regularly peppered through popular culture.
In 2005, the line was chosen as #81 on the American Film Institute list, AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes.
In 1975, Streisand reprised her role of Brice opposite James Caan as Brice's second husband, impresario Billy Rose, in a sequel entitled Funny Lady. The sequel received less than favorable reviews and was unable to turn as much of a profit as its predecessor.
The film was released on Region 1 DVD on October 23, 2001. It is in anamorphic widescreen format with audio tracks in English and French and subtitles in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Georgian, Chinese, and Thai. Bonus features include Barbra in Movieland and This Is Streisand, production information, and cast filmographies. The Blu-ray edition made its world debut on April 30, 2013 with the same bonus material as the DVD release. The Blu-ray release was also concurrent with Streisand's most recent film, The Guilt Trip.