Despite his undeniable looks, that wasn’t the impression he left on me, not exactly. He was handsome, yes. He was charismatic, yes. But the word I’d use if thinking of him was disquieting. Why? Because of his performance of Nick Arnstein in Funny Girl, a performance so suave, so heartbreaking, and so believable I could never fully imagine him apart from that role afterward.
Up to then, I think I must have seen only Disney marriages onscreen: You love each other; therefore, happily ever after is guaranteed, as long as you’re not a fool enough to fall for a jerk. But here was a marriage torn apart by pride, by a man’s reluctance to see his wife out-earn him, by a love for a profession–gambling–which wasn’t exactly reputable, but was all he had to bolster his confidence. (Part of Sharif’s believability might have resulted from his well-known skill at it.) Could a woman’s success poison her relationships? Could separate passions so totally separate such an affectionate couple?
My reason and sympathy might have been with Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand), but I had an uneasy feeling that marriage wasn’t quite as simple as I’d been led to believe. That this story, in spite of the Hollywood gloss on real events, was saying something I wasn’t old enough to accept about what it took for a union to make it, whether romantic or platonic. I comforted myself that it wasn’t EXACTLY true, but there was an authenticity to the portrayal I couldn’t deny.
I’ve thought of Sharif’s role in the years since, when I witnessed in so many friendships and unwise romances* how much charm can mask incompatibility, and selfishness too. Perhaps the film should be required viewing for women on the cusp of adulthood: It might not be the kind of heartwarming story you want to watch before you curl off to sleep, but you might pass fewer sleepless nights if you do.
*luckily for me, few of my own