Title: Funny Face
Release Date: February 13, 1957
Director: Stanley Donen
Production Company: Paramount Pictures
The challenge for me with musicals is setting aside my logical brain and just enjoying the song and dance. Funny Face, for example, asks me to believe that Audrey Hepburn has a funny face when she is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful people of all time. The movie is an odd one, with some startlingly feminist tones for 1957, although these are often undercut. Similarly it recognizes an emerging counterculture but mostly to make it a butt of jokes.
Funny Face can’t be faulted for its great sense of style. The movie uses bold colors and dramatic film techniques to great effect, and incorporates mid-century design into the background of its New York scenes versus the old world charms of its Paris settings. The music is entertaining, largely George and Ira Gershwin tunes composed for a 1927 Broadway musical called Funny Face that had an entirely different plot. Hepburn draws on her dance training performing several numbers, including a Bohemian dance in a Paris cafe, and we even get to hear her sing (unlike My Fair Lady, which was unfair to Hepburn’s lovely voice).
Kay Thompson, the author of the Eloise books, steals the show as the bombastic fashion magazine publisher Maggie Prescott. The trope of the domineering fashion magazine publisher followed by a gaggle of women editors is very familiar, did it start with this movie? On a photoshoot to a Greenwich Village philosophy book shop, Maggie and her crew harass the book seller Jo Stockton (Hepburn) and trash the store. Photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) takes a liking to Jo and stays to help her clean up. (He also kisses her without consent because apparently Fred Astaire always has to be creepy).
Avery convinces Maggie that Jo would be the perfect fresh face for their magazine’s new campaign, since she has “character, spirit, and “intelligence.” He convinces Jo to take the job since it would give her the opportunity to go to Paris and hear the lectures of the philosopher Professor Emile Flostre (Michel Auclair). And so they go to Paris where there is singing, dancing, high fashion, and comic hi-jinks abound. And, of course, romance flourishes because Hepburn must always be paired with men 30 years her senior for some reason.
Again, the logical brain must be disconnected, but once that’s done, there’s a lot to enjoy in this cheerful fluff of a film.