Funny Face (1957)
Release Date: February 13th, 1957 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Stanley Donen Actors: Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Kay Thompson, Michel Auclair, Robert Flemyng, Dovima
charming yet relatively generic musical, “Funny Face” bridges the gap between Hepburn’s Oscar winning turn in “Roman Holiday” (at the age of 24) as a serious dramatic and romantic character and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (made when she was 32), a more whimsical yet adult endeavor. Amusingly, “Funny Face” makes use of Hepburn’s dancing and singing skills (her later “My Fair Lady,” which met far greater critical acclaim, opted to dub her songs), which had no impact on her most famous performances. As with her other films, she plays opposite a considerably older male lead; here, Astaire at 58 was more than double her age.
The Quality Magazine is looking for a fresh idea to enlighten the pages of the publication. Inimitable photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) stumbles upon the unique intelligence and beauty of Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn), a clerk at Embryo Concepts Book Shop. Reluctant at first, she is soon swept away by his promise to take her to Paris, where she hopes to meet empathicalist philosopher Flostre (Michel Auclair). Getting the ultimate makeover for a new fashion line that she’s supposed to model, Jo is torn between her fondness for Avery and her shortsighted crush on Professor Flostre.
The film features timeless songs from Ira and George Gershwin, including “Funny Face,” “’S Wonderful,” and “Bonjour, Paris.” The production essentially serves as a vehicle for showcasing these tunes, many of which originated in the 1927 Broadway hit of the same name (though the stories are dissimilar). From the “Let’s Kiss and Make Up” matador dance in a moonlit courtyard to Hepburn’s long, solo cafe gambol, “Funny Face” doesn’t slack on showing exceptionally choreographed routines and highlighting the stunning agility of the star terpsichoreans.
Breaking into spontaneous song and dance is not something modern audiences are generally familiar or comfortable with, especially as recent forays into the now rare genre tend to avoid using such sequences as conversational spans. In “Funny Face,” musical numbers aid in telling the story and are often a replacement for direct narration or playful exchanges, though the movie could convey its simple love triangle romance even without the lavish processions. The premise is also notable for the large amount of fashionable costume designs it exhibits, which led to Edith Head and Hubert de Givenchy receiving Academy Award nominations. Ultimately, “Funny Face” isn’t of the same caliber as “Gigi” or “Singin’ in the Rain” (though the ending is spectacularly pleasing), but it’s still a prime example of the 1950’s classic musicals, with its adequate successes residing in the captivating likeability and gracefulness of Hepburn and its bright, picturesque sets that appear as if snatched right out of a painting (the art directors and cinematographer would also be honored with Oscar nods).
– Mike Massie