Whenever I need a bit of inspiration, for both style, mood and determination, I look to the Almighty Babs. More specifically, the musical comedy from 1968, Funny Girl. I'm not a devoted Barbara Streisand fan, but I did grow up listening to her music -- my mother loves her music -- and as a kid, I remember paging through the original program for the movie (yes, they actually did that back in the day), when it premiered in Los Angeles and my mother dragged my father to see it on a date night. Despite the movie's 1930s-era story, it's 1960's luxe, all the way, from the sky-high hairdos, to the gorgeously wing-tipped eyeliner. Some of the numbers are positively Barbarella, but who cares -- watching it now, it's like a postmodern mashup of all the best parts of the 1930s and 1960s, combined, with the incredible voice and humor of its star.
I caught my first viewing of Funny Girl one night, I think it was on PBS and I couldn't have been more than 13 or 14. They would sometimes show classics late on Friday nights, and I was hooked, the second Babs, as the famous Ziegfield Follies girl, Fanny Brice, shoved that pillow under her wedding gown for her premiere number, setting the theme for the rest of the movie, which is, if you're going to make people laugh, make sure it's with you, not at you -- you're in control of the joke. It's a very, VERY loose adaptation of the life of the real-life comedienne, Fanny Brice, and it mainly focuses on the height of her career and her rollercoaster romance with the dashing professional gambler, Nicky Arnstein, marvelously played by Omar Sharif. Barbara Streisand's portrayal of Fanny Brice is a portrait of gumption. A girl from the Lower East Side who lacks in money but not in talent, ambition and charm, makes her dream of being a celebrated stage performer a reality, and she uses that same gumption to pursue her heart's desire, the gorgeous boy we all know is no good for us, yet we pursue him anyway. I'm inspired by the beautiful costumes and that singular-mindedness of Fanny, even thought it's Hollywoodland magic, and that's why I always watch this movie, again and again. Movies, even musicals, in the 60s are my favorites, mostly because they still had the rich production values of the Golden Era, but with more of a punch. The jokes could be bawdy, the characters could be flawed, and the endings don't have to come out perfectly happy.
Funny Girl is full of incredible and hilarious musical numbers, staying in line with the "make them laugh with you, not at you" mantra set early on in the film, which makes the final number, Fanny Brice's real-life signature song, My Man, all the more poignant, as it's sung with a broken heart, but suddenly elevated to an anthem for the impossible optimist. It's a Scarlett O' Hara moment of "Tomorrow... is another day," but for the real-life girls out there. The ones who aren't blessed with perfect Barbie smiles. The girls who are smart enough to take the jokes and turn them around to their benefit. And the ones who pick themselves up after every fall, and still manage to keep going.
Jaunty Fine Print: images and video from the film, Funny Girl (1968)