Of course the title Funny Girl conjures the likes of a Barbra Streisand or a Lucile Ball, but novelist, essayist, and screenwriter Nick Hornby sets his funny girl against that figurative and literal backdrop of 1960s British sitcom. It's eponymous protagonist, Barbara Parker transforms herself into Sophie Straw and takes a leading role in a BBC sitcom fraught with class, social, and sexual tensions and the pressure to remain fresh as the social mores change.
That fight, as he shares with Jim and Margery, has striking parallels with his own career. He shifts seamlessly from nonfiction to novels, from short form to long form, to the big screen, and back again.
In Funny Girl, Hornby works to reveal the intelligence and warmth of British humor, which, as he shared, isn't all that different from its American cousin. "We all watch everything," he reminds us.
While he has cultivated a reputation as an author capable of transforming his own work to the screen (Fever Pitch, High Fidelity, and About a Boy, to name a few), Hornby has also developed the instinctual and profoundly respectful ability to adapt other authors' works for film. He partnered with his wife, an independent producer, to develop An Education from an essay, and he has been nominated for an Oscar for his work adapting Cheryl Strayed's memoir Wild.
Hornby, who fell in love with Wild at first read, couldn't help but visualize the rich imagery of Strayed's journey alone on the Pacific Crest Trail. Having reached out to Reese Witherspoon, who had optioned the book, Hornby struggled to linguistically make the shift from Strayed's raw and romantic internal narrative to something more the externalized for the film. How could an audience get inside her head and heart without resorting to the clichéd inner monologue?
Hornby drew inspiration from a line in which Strayed describes the "mixed tape radio" floating through her head. He remembers latching on to that, imagining, "if you can tune in to that radio, then it doesn't have to be a conventional voiceover." And so in Wild's screen adaptation, Cheryl's mind, as wounded as her heart, is unflinchingly exposed: we hear fragments of song, bits of poetry, and even advertising jingles. "It's not always coherent," Hornby admits, but perhaps that's part of its honesty. It's the same kind of honesty that runs through Funny Girl.
Surprisingly, Hornby refuses to be precious about his work. "When I'm done," he says, "I'm done. I want to get on with the next thing. " New ideas, for Hornby, often feel more attractive than the ones he has just been working through. And no matter what happens on the screen, his books aren't ruined. "They are all right up there on the shelves."