FUNNY FACE (1957) 

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Audrey Hepburn
Fred Astaire
Kay Thompson
Michel Auclair
Robert Flemyng
Virginia Gibson

Stanley Donen



About Astaire

About Hepburn

Time: 103 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Musical/Romance/Drama

Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design and Original Screenplay.

I have to admit that I'm stunned I didn't enjoy this film more. I'm a huge fan of both Hepburn and Astaire and usually they can do no wrong in my book. It's not that FUNNY FACE is a horrible film or unenjoyable, it's just so contrived that I didn't believe one frame of it. I understand the notion behind most musicals – man and woman from total opposite walks of life, meet under crazy circumstances, fall in love, sing and dance, fight like cats and dogs and wind up together in the end. However, in the case of this film, the formula was just too thin to sustain. Think wafer thin. Plus, I didn't really feel much of a spark or chemistry between Astaire and Hepburn. They went through the motions of a couple falling in love and really tried, but I wasn't swept up in the romance, which is something of a problem for a romantic musical.

The film certainly isn't lacking for ambience. Shot in and around Paris, as well as a couple of sound stages to be sure, FUNNY FACE is lovely to look at. Since the backstory is about fashion and the debut of the new "Quality Woman" the clothes are to die for as well. Nobody knows how to clothe Hepburn like Givenchy and she looks divine. It's amazing how she can go from gamine to glamorous without a second thought, which I believe is part of her enormous and longstanding appeal. Hepburn's is not your typical beauty, but she more than makes up for her "funny face" with charisma and class. There is certainly no other actress who could have pulled off the physical transformation called for in this film. It's not as dramatic as say MY FAIR LADY, but it is intrigal to the plot. What there is of one.

The film opens with Quality Magazine's fashion editor Maggie Prescott (Thompson) trying to come up with the latest and greatest fashion idea to sweep the nation. She'd recently redone the world in pink, but wants the revolution to be more than just a color. With photographer Dick Avery (Astaire) and all her yes-women in tow, they descend on a dark and dingy Greenwich Village bookshop to give their newest photo spread an air of intelligence. Jo Stockton (Hepburn), the bookish shop clerk is appalled by their appearance and demands that they leave immediately. No one speaks to Maggie Prescott in such a manner and Jo quickly finds herself on the outside looking in. When the fashionistas finally leave, Jo is left to clean up their mess. It's clear they have no respect for books or the ideas found in them, which are the foundation of her life. Avery, who sticks around to help, has some ideas of his own, but Jo wants nothing to do with him, though his stolen kiss does open a door to possibilities she never considered.

Jo has dreamed of going to Paris to meet Professor Emile Flostre (Auclair), the man who invented the concept of empathicalism, which she lives her life by. She is offered the chance to make this dream come true by Ms. Presott and Avery, who request only that she put aside her loathing of material things to become their next cover girl sensation. Jo can't believe they want to put her unusual face on their magazine, but she agrees, mostly for the opportunity to see Paris, but also because she's falling in love with Dick. Once in Paris she gets swept up in the Beatnik culture and begins to regret her decision to become a model. However, once she sees herself in the beautiful clothes created just for her, she begins to have fun with her situation. Besides, it gives her a chance to spend days on end with Dick, who she believes only sees her for her photographic potential. Of course, they finally discover each others feelings only to have their new love torn apart by anger and jealousy. After the requisite craziness of denying and then renewing their feelings, they wind up dancing in each others arms, in love and looking fabulous.

I'm usually a sucker for musicals and can find little wrong with most that I see, but the dance numbers in FUNNY FACE got more than a little tiresome by the end. For the most part they were good, but were nothing unusual. Astaire seems more graceful when dancing with props – the quasi bull-fighting with his overcoat routine is the only one that stands out – than he does with Hepburn. They were technically on the money, but there is no real chemistry. Her main dance sequence where she's unleashing her feelings in the beatnik cafe shows she can move, but was too esoteric and "modern" for my tastes. Astaire's one number with the obviously talented Kay Thompson was ridiculous and obvious filler. The one with Thompson and Hepburn, painful. The music – which was mainly Gershwin tunes, some used as intended, others revamped and modernized – was generally delightful, setting a wonderful tone for the film and its' characters emotions. I would have preferred they just sing and cut out the disjointed dance numbers.

"Every girl on every page of Quality has grace, elegance, and pizzazz. Now what's wrong with bringing out a girl who has character, spirit, and intelligence?"

My main problem with FUNNY FACE is that it's just too by the numbers, wasting the talent and star power of its cast. Hepburn is luminous and does her best to bring heart and intelligence to her role. Astaire just seems bored and tired. I don't blame him. By this point in his career, his films must have seemed like one long production number. Insert new songs, new choreography, exotic location and latest female star on the scene and presto, brand new picture. No matter how talented Astaire was he couldn't possibly have amazing chemistry with everyone. This film has some wonderful moments between its leads, especially the photo shoot scenes and their first dance number, but really begins to drag by the end when it becomes just like every other musical. If you're a fan of either Astaire or Hepburn, FUNNY FACE is a film you should definitely check out. They each have classic moments that are lovely to see. They've both done better work, but since this is their only onscreen pairing it's worth at least one viewing. If you're not a huge fan of musicals, you might want to skip this one and go for an Astaire pic like TOP HAT, where you know you'll get your monies worth.

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