It’s rare that I finish a book thinking “I can’t wait to see the film adaptation of this”, but that was clearly the main thing on my mind when I finished – heck, when I finished the first chapter even – of Nick Hornby’s Funny Girl.
Funny Girl tracks the rise and fall of Barbara (and Jim), a fictitious 1960s British sitcom, and the lives of those involved in the show. The show centres around Sophie Straw, a blonde bombshell who would rather make men laugh than pant – an ambition all men in London seem to find vaguely disorienting. Crafting the show specifically for her are two sexually confused writers (well, one is confused, the other is just closeted) and a mild-manner producer, the straight man in this little group of actors and writers. Rounding out the quintet is Clive, the Jim to Sophie’s Barbara, who can’t quite accept that what fame he has came because of Sophie’s star power and not his own.
It is a fun book. It’s just also a bland and insubstantial one. I never particularly enjoyed Hornby’s earlier novels but at least they were fresh and memorable. Here, everything is instantly forgettable and every character is embarrassingly stereotypical and flat. Even the characters you like – perhaps especially those ones – you spend the entire book hoping that Hornby will grant some attention to in order to flesh them out. But no. That never happens and so Sophie remains the sexy actress who just wants to be taken seriously for her talent rather than her looks, Clive remains the handsome but characterless cad, doomed to lechery and forgettable roles, and so on and so on. It’s all a bit frustrating, particularly as Hornby’s attempts at social commentary are equally formulaic.
That said, I still think it would make a wonderful movie. Flat characters collapse in print but do just fine on screen. And who doesn’t love 1960s costumes?