FUNNY FACE, 1957
Directed by: Stanley Donen
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Kay Thompson, Michel Auclair
Review by Jayvibha Vaidya
Jo Stockton’s bookstore is invaded by the glamourous team at Quality Magazine for an impromptu photo shoot and is forced to be a subject in the photos. When photographer Dick Avery notices her ‘funny face’ and recommends her for ‘The Quality Woman,’ Jo’s life is changed as she is forced to choose between her intellectual life and the glitzy fashion world.
NOMINATED FOR 4 OSCARS – Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume and Writing
“Your empathy is a little one-sided for me, baby.”
Opening with a camera tracking through a stark white room and into a world of pink, Funny Face begins with a mission: find the next ‘It’ woman; a woman who is so fashionable, she’s “not interested in clothes.” Editor of Quality Magazine, Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson), has an idea for a photo feature: plop a glamourous model in a Greenwich Village bookstore and watch the intelligence jump off the page. But the shop clerk at the bookstore is not impressed. Opinionated and appalled, Jo Stockton (the lovely Audrey Hepburn) refuses to allow the photo shoot to happen, but in a flurry of taffeta, shouting and flashbulbs, photos are taken – with her as an involuntary model. Noticing her beauty, photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) encourages Jo to be the “Quality Woman.’ Jo reluctantly accepts the magazine’s offer in order to fulfill her dream of traveling to Paris to meet her idol, the philosopher Emile Flostre (Michel Auclair).
Arriving in Paris, Jo is immediately caught up with the Beatnik culture, talking to fellow intellectuals about the philosophy of Empathicalism (putting oneself in another’s place, emotionally). But she’s reminded that she’s there to do a job – and she does so reluctantly. With Dick behind the camera, directing her through the gorgeous backdrop of Parisian architecture and culture, Jo’s pictures turn out stunning. As Jo and Dick spend more time together, arguing about principles, values and materialism, they naturally begin to fall in love. But on the big night, when Jo is required to appear and unveil a new fashion line, she hears of Professor’s Flostre’s presence at a local café. Running to meet him, she loses track of time until Dick arrives and drags her away. In an amusing scene, Jo and Dick get into a heated argument and she pushes him into the stage set, destroying all the props and sets just as the curtain is pulled back in front of international press.
Utilizing two of the 50’s biggest stars, the film succeeds in showing the skill and talent of Astaire and Hepburn. While Hepburn’s singing is not as perfect as her contemporaries, her voice is clear and sweet. Her modern dance number in the café has become one of the most famous scenes in the film. Hepburn dancing is remarkable, displaying control, grace and fluidity. Astaire’s voice is simply lovely and his dancing is laid-back and loose; a pleasure to watch. And while the romance between Jo and Dick is believable, the chemistry between them seems more like old dear friends, than two people who find themselves in love despite their vastly different lifestyles. But there is a kindness between them that makes the audience root for their union; both actors are incredibly charming.
Written and arranged by George and Ira Gershwin, the songs in the film are sweet but not entirely catchy. The performers do well in each song, with “Funny Face,” “Bonjour, Paris!” and “He Loves and She Loves” as highlights. The musical numbers mostly work because of the locations in which the characters traipse through. Gorgeous parks, streams, Paris landmarks and stylized sets serve as back-drop to their musical moments. The look of the film is quite beautiful as the filmmakers choose to play with colours; using negatives, sepia tones and freeze frames to heighten certain images. Costumes are by the famously talented Edith Head with Ms. Hepburn’s high-fashion outfits by Givenchy (a designer to whom she was extremely loyal). The dresses drape beautifully around Hepburn and each outfit compliments her beauty, making her character’s modeling career entirely believable.
The film jabs fun at philosophy, elite movements and phony intellectuals in a silly manner. Professor Flostre is a young charismatic man who recruits followers in a covert fashion, only allowing them access to him by making it on a list or idolizing him. When Dick and Maggie go ‘undercover’ as a spiritual band from Tallahassee, they encounter a depressed French singer, a weeping groupie and security around Professor Flostre. It takes a while for Jo to realize the foolishness of her idol and his followers. However, she does not falter in her belief in empathy, finally seeing a situation from Dick’s point of view. The film treats the world of fashion the same way, showing models who are unintelligent, fads as silly and people who take themselves way too seriously. The ending is slightly melodramatic and romanticized, but it fits with the conventions of a 1950s American musical. Fun and entertaining, the film wraps up with a happy ending in a gorgeously stylized last scene: the two lovers float by on a wooden raft trailed by swans.
Funny Face is a charming film made all the more charming by Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. In their only screen pairing, they bring a light, sweet performance. Both ooze class and poise and are simply lovely to watch. Kay Thompson as Maggie Prescott has some of the best lines “She put herself in your place…you put yourself in her place and the two of you are bound to run into each other in somebody’s place!” Funny Face is one of Paramount’s great musicals capturing the absurdity of fashion and silly intellectual movements while showcasing one of most beautiful cities in the world.