On a Clear Day You Can See Forever January 24, 2017
Barbra Streisand has the sort of star power that explodes off the screen. So effortlessly lovable and so much a force (with her roaring voice, her palpable charisma, and her slicing comedic timing), she’s enough to practically blow anyone standing next to her right off the screen if they fail to out-act her themselves.
As a result of her being such a titan of the celluloid, finding a vehicle able to contain her has enforced a career full of movies that remain watchable only because Streisand’s in them. The only feature to have spotlighted her correctly is Peter Bogdanovich’s glimmering screwball comedy homage What’s Up, Doc? (1972), which prevails because it recognizes the boldness of Streisand and likens her talents to that of a behemoth of a figure like Katharine Hepburn. No one opposite her is ever going to stand out as much as she does, and that fact’s recognized. Even Funny Girl (1968), the enduring musical drama that got her an Oscar, struggles due to its run-time and due to the entire ensemble cast being more wet towel than personality driven. Streisand, of course, is larger than life in the movie.
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, her 1970 collaboration with Vincente Minnelli (Meet Me in St. Louis, An American in Paris), suffers from the very same problem that has plagued Streisand’s long career: she’s astounding, but everyone else seems at a loss as to how to keep up with her. In the film, she is Daisy Gamble, a flibbertigibbet of a post-grad trying to kick her smoking habit. Possessing an addictive personality that ensures that she consumes five packs a day, her vice has become a problem for her conservative fiancee Warren (Larry Blyden), who’s intent to marry her but not if she’s going to die of a black lung within a couple years.
Knowing full well that she’s too flighty to quit on her own, Daisy attends one of the lectures of Marc Chabot (a thoroughly wooden Yves Montand), a psychiatrist with a knack for hypnotization. Believing that she could enlist him to essentially put her in a trance and command that she stops puffing smoke so fanatically, she introduces herself and, before long, plays patient to his doctor.
But after Chabot accidentally travels too deeply into her psyche is it unexpectedly revealed that Daisy, in addition to being an airheaded twentysomething, is the reincarnation of Lady Melinda Winifred Waine Tentrees, a sexually confident eighteenth-century social climber who worked her way from poverty-stricken illegitimacy to wondrous wealth in her lifetime. Chabot keeps this discovery a secret. But when he begins to fall for the woman Daisy no longer is, complications unavoidably arise for both him and the girl who sits in his office almost every day.
The concept, already trippy enough as it is, is poised to struggle to convince. And yet it mostly works, with the fantasy sequences arguably more effective than the ones set in the present day. But maybe that’s only because scenes that take place in 1970 are also characterized by actors who aren’t Streisand. And those actors, despite mostly being renowned, are so bland by contrast that the second any of them so much as open their mouths we find ourselves already pining to see and hear more of her. When a star acts and sings as magnificently as she does, it’s almost unthinkable to sit through a minute in which she’s not stealing a moment from another.
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, then, is forthcomingly a little off-center. Since its headliner is so sublime, we’re sporadically tricked that we are, in fact, watching a great movie. And we aren’t: the story, while sound, doesn’t emotionally invest us, and no one not named Barbra Streisand is inviting. It’s all rather stagey, too, not unlike the play from which it was conceived. So it’s good. But imagine how wonderful it could have been had Minnelli and the film’s makers better understood the capabilities of their leading lady and worked with them more efficaciously. C+