Editor's Note: In my frenzied world of the past two weeks, I barely posted my Guilty Pleasure, and the next day my post for "Funny Face" appeared as #45 in the movie musical countdown on the blog Wonders in the Dark. I feel horrible for not posting here to lead to that post. Below is the review; here is the link to Wonders for the conversation that took place there. Thank you to the gang at Wonders for allowing me to participate.
I love her funny face, to steal a line from the title track of “Funny Face,” because I adore Audrey Hepburn.
And this, her first musical, combines everything an Audrey fan would love: romance, comedy, a debonair leading man and Audrey’s stunning wardrobe, an array of late 1950s couture by her favorite designer, Hubert de Givenchy.
As for de Givenchy, Hepburn once said: “I depend on Givenchy in the same way that American women depend on their psychiatrists. There are few people I love more. He is the single person I know with the greatest integrity.”
And why talk about clothes? Because it’s a musical about a fashion photographer and the mousy bookstore clerk he turns into a beautiful model. It’s actually pretty amazing that this 1957 film turned out as s’wonderful as it did, considering how many changes it went through from start to finish.
The original musical “Funny Face,” with songs by the Gershwin brothers, was on Broadway in the late 1920s and starred Fred Astaire and his sister, Adele. The Arthur Freed unit actually began developing this musical as a film at MGM but ended up selling it to Paramount. Most of the songs and the plot from the original were dropped, Gershwin songs from some of their other shows were added, and new music was written by Roger Edens and Leonard Gershe.
Yet “Funny Face” comes across seamlessly, filled with great charm from start to finish.
In the film, Maggie Prescott (the glorious Kay Thompson) needs a new gimmick for the upcoming edition of her magazine, Quality. Maggie and Dick Avery determine they want something bold – models who have both beauty and brains. In reality, they just want that perception, not the real thing.
So they descend upon a tiny Greenwich Village bookstore, where bookish Jo Stockton (Hepburn) objects to the fashion team swooping in, dumping books on the floor, taking photos and leaving her with a mess. Later in the darkroom, Dick realizes that it’s Jo’s face in the background that captures a special combination of loveliness and thoughtfulness.
Much to Jo’s horror, Maggie and Dick offer to whisk her to Paris for a big photo shoot. Although it’s against her philosophical ideals, Jo agrees when she realizes the trip will bring her face-to-face to her idol, Prof. Emile Flostre (Michel Auclair), who lives in Paris.
Photographer Richard Averdon provided technical expertise on “Funny Face,” and one of the best sequences is that fashion shoot. The combination of Paris locales, Hepburn’s believability as a model and those gorgeous clothes combine for an eye-popping display. I also like Donen’s visual representation of photography by showing the final photo and its color separations.
But this is one of many memorable sequences. Each song in the film can stand on its own, with Donen giving each its own mood within the whole of the film. The zippy “Think Pink” that opens the movie places Thompson against a backdrop of desks, doors and look-alike secretaries and makes the color pink pop off the screen – you have to wonder what this could have looked like in 3-D! The energetic “Bonjour Paris” by Gershe and Edens becomes a marvelous travelogue of Paris as the three leads take viewers on a tour of the city. Conversely, Hepburn’s wistful “How Long Has This Been Going On?” set in the bookstore is marvelous in its simplicity.
It’s worth noting that Hepburn did her own singing in this film (unlike “My Fair Lady,” where, much to Hepburn’s chagrin, she was dubbed). Her voice may not be on par with a Julie Andrews, but it’s perfectly charming here, and it fits right into the film’s fizzy tone.
What Hepburn could do was dance, having taken lessons from the time she was a girl. She originally went to London to become a dancer, so it’s great fun to watch her in a marvelous 1950s beatnik number as she makes black pants, white socks and loafers look like a chic fashion choice. Plus she’s paired with Astaire, the suave dancer whose elegance is timeless. While some carp at the age difference between the stars, I never minded it because of their great chemistry, and together they move as if floating on a cloud.
Thompson, who only made a handful of films, steals her numbers and has a wickedly fun duo with Astaire called “Clap Yo’ Hands,” which is actually from the Gershwin musical “Oh Kay!”
“Funny Face” never ages in my book. It’s everything a musical should be – great stars, memorable musical numbers and a charming plot. Plus it has Hepburn looking absolutely stunning in Technicolor. How could anyone not love her face?