Judge Ben Saylor's face has character, or at least that's what his mom always tells him.
Our review of Funny Face, published May 29th, 2001, is also available.
Presented in a Real New Dimension in Motion Picture Entertainment
In terms of musicals, Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffany's) is best known for My Fair Lady. She made another musical, however: a 1957 film called Funny Face. Co-starring Fred Astaire and featuring songs by George and Ira Gershwin, Paramount is celebrating this Stanley Donen-directed (Singin' in the Rain) film's 50th anniversary by rolling out a special edition release.
Facts of the Case
Quality Magazine chief Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson, The Kid From Brooklyn) needs a fresh direction for her publication. Star photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire, Royal Wedding) suggests the magazine use Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn), a philosophical Greenwich Village bookshop clerk, as the new face of Quality. Jo is reluctant at first, but the promise of a trip to Paris—and with it the chance to meet her philosopher idol Professor Flostre (Michel Auclair, The Day of the Jackal)—proves to be too much to resist. Before long, Jo and Dick find themselves falling for each other in the City of Lights. But can the no-nonsense Dick and the intellectual Jo reconcile their differences to make the relationship work?
I'm no great lover of musicals; I was drawn to Funny Face primarily out of love for Hepburn. To my surprise, I found plenty to like here.
For starters, there's Hepburn, of course. Dressed by Givenchy and Edith Head, the actress is gorgeous in every frame of the film. She is terrific in the film's famous (and Gap-spoofed) interpretive dance sequence, and exudes passion, charm, and comic flair throughout the film. In other words, it's a typical Hepburn performance.
The music in the film is another one of its strengths. The songs in Funny Face are not only great tunes, but they're also well choreographed by Eugene Loring and Astaire. Highlights are the film's opener, "Think Pink"; Hepburn's rendition of "How Long Has This Been Going On?"; the Astaire/Hepburn/Thompson number "Bonjour Paris"; and closing number "'S Wonderful." I singled out only a few songs, but really, I enjoyed all the music in the film. For someone who generally only likes a few songs in a given musical, that's saying something. Also of note is the bizarre Astaire/Thompson duet "Clap Yo' Hands," where the two characters are posing as Southern beatnik singers (at least I think so). This is as good a place in the review as any to praise Thompson's amusing performance as a prototype of Meryl Streep's character in The Devil Wears Prada.
Funny Face is also a Technicolor dazzler, something highlighted by Paramount's superb transfer. The colors are just terrific, from the "Think Pink" sequence to the "Bonjour Paris" number to the photo shoot montage. Filming in VistaVision, Donen and cinematographer Ray June have a very wide canvas on which to lavish color, and they make sure not to squander the opportunity. Special mention should also be given to photographer Richard Avedon's wonderful work with the photographs during the photo shoot montage.
Unfortunately, I found plenty to dislike here as well. Funny Face is a product of its time in both good ways and bad. The film's plot contains a strong anti-intellectual bent that at best is charmingly dated and at worst is rather grating. It's one thing to poke fun at Greenwich Village bohemians and postwar French philosophers, but Leonard Gershe's script often comes across as downright condescending and mistrustful of freethinkers. There's a horrible moment when Dick is fuming at Jo for spending time with Flostre, who he feels is only interested in Jo's body. When she suggests that he might have an intellectual interest in her as well, he nastily retorts, "He's about as interested in your intellect as I am." Regardless of Flostre's actual intentions, that's a pretty bad line. The film's ending does set this right somewhat, but it is not enough to compensate for how dated this film is.
Another problem I have with Funny Face (and I know I'm not the only one) is the age gap between Astaire, who was in his 50s at the time of the film, and Hepburn, who was in her 20s. To begin with, Astaire is arguably miscast as a fashion photographer (watching the film, I tried to imagine him in the David Hemmings role in Blowup, which was actually very amusing), although he does display his usual fine footwork in the film. Somehow, the age gap worked better between Hepburn and Cary Grant in Donen's excellent Charade.
As I said earlier, Paramount's transfer of Funny Face is fantastic; the sound is excellent as well. However, the same cannot be said for the disc's extras. Beyond a photo gallery and theatrical trailer, there are just three extras included on this DVD that run less than a half-hour total. First up is "The Fashion Designer and His Muse," an eight-minute look at the relationship between Givenchy and Hepburn. Featuring interviews with designer-author Jeffrey Banks and Audrey Style author Pamela Keogh, this is actually an interesting featurette about not only these two artists' relationship, but also the fashion of the film. Next up is "Parisian Dreams," which runs almost eight minutes and features author Drew Casper and Managing Director of the Commission du Film d'Ile de France Olivier-René Veillon discussing Paris' many cinematic charms and how the city figures into Funny Face. Lastly, there is a nine-minute clip called "Paramount in the '50s" that provides snippets of the studio's successes during the titular decade. Of these, only "The Fashion Designer and His Muse" and "Parisian Dreams" are new to this edition of the disc. (The film had an earlier release in 2004.)
Funny Face is a highly flawed but very enjoyable classic movie musical with great songs, beautiful cinematography and a terrific lead performance from Audrey Hepburn. Any fan of musicals, Hepburn and gorgeous Technicolor filmmaking would do well take a look at this Funny Face, but fans will be disappointed by the lack of substantive special features.
'S not guilty.
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• "The Fashion Designer and His Muse"
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