This musical is notable for being a) a biopic of vaudeville and radio star Fanny Brice, and being b) Barbra Streisand's first movie, after several albums and extensive television work.
For those who haven't seen the film at all, it's a fairly straightforward telling of Fanny's rise to fame as a Ziegfield Girl in the early to mid Teens of the last century, with a focus on her marriage to a professional gambler, Nick Arnstein, as played most memorably by real-life card shark Omar Sharif. Since this is a Sixties musical, there's very little dialogue. Instead, people break into song to indicate that they're happy, sad, or thinking, as well as lavish production numbers "onstage". Since only Barbra has much of a voice, this means that she's the only one who's allowed to do major emoting, which severely undercuts the film's dramatic weight.
The philosophical subtext is surprisingly sophisticated, for such an otherwise light film, which leads to the movie's most dramatic and cerebral number, "People". For many of a certain age, and I'm sure many younger, this song is less a meditation, than a piece of overplayed MUZAK. In context, it comes totally out of left field, as she muses over whether they're 'just lucky' that they both have such a carefree lifestyle. In contrast, "people who need people" are truly lucky: they can live their lives maturely and have a chance at true love.
Other than that, the only flaw in the film is its insistent niceness. The Ziegfield Girls hardly seem affected at all by the Boss's preferential treatment of his somewhat erratic star (it's hinted that she was uniquely free to choose her own material, and once cut short a tour in order to surprise her husband to be in a manner that now looks less like a supremely romantic gesture than outright stalking). When Fanny shows signs of being romantically involved, even breaking what would have been fairly ingrained taboos against eating unfamiliar foods (goose-liver pate and lobster), her mother simply shrugs, and asks when she's marrying the guy. (Whom she does, in fairly short order.) When they have to sell what looks to be a sizable Long Island mansion, in the wake of Nick's accruing massive debts, it's considered less as problematic than a simple matter of convenience: Fanny doesn't have to commute anymore. Henry Street is less squalid than colorful, life at the New Amsterdam Theater a whirl of costumes and lavish sets and Fanny's life outside the theater a parade of satin gowns, furs, jewels, and upswept hairdos, as if she emerged every morning from her slumbers freshly coiffed, made up and dressed in a pair of harem pants. About all they get into in terms of a fight comes off as less "you're endangering my career" than "you wrecked a pleasant evening". In short, nobody's tears hurt their makeup, no one gets killed, more than emotionally bruised, goes mad or turns to chemical relief. While some people might consider this welcome understatement, it plays to me like a life lived in an old-time department store, by mannequins.
(Yes, I know that this is a way to make Barbra's "unconventional" good looks palatable by 1960's standards, which dictated that even if you were playing a floozy, you at least needed to be a good-looking floozy. At the same time, the real Fanny Brice looks like my schoolmate Evelyn McRae, whom everybody thought was "quietly ladylike". So there.)
Yet Streisand's Fanny has a quality unique in all her films: vulnerability. Fanny truly, desperately, loves Nick, and though she possesses self-confidence in spades, hearts, diamonds, club and No Trump, it's obvious that she could stand someone in the bleachers to root for her. In the day, many questioned her romancing an Egyptian during the period of the Six Day War-and indeed, "You are Woman, I am Man" holds possibilities of the heat remaining outside the shooting. Listening to "My Man", which goes from raw desire to professional silk, makes you hunger for more. And so be it!