Sunday, 7 October 2007
Funny Face (1957) dir. Stanley Donen
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Kay Thompson
It’s the 50th Anniversary of “Funny Face”- the Hepburn/Astaire musical classic about a bookish young girl’s entry into the world of high fashion. Having not seen it before I was looking to seeing it because of director Stanley Donen, who made three of the all time classic musicals “On the Town”, “Singing in the Rain” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”. Unfortunately, despite some wonderful direction, the musical sequences are a bore compared these other classics. And the age difference between Astaire and Hepburn distracted me from accepting it as a love story.
The film opens with very creative credit sequence by Richard Avedon, which brings us into the office of the high style fashion magazine ‘Quality’. The editor-in-chief is a pre-Anna Wintour bull of a woman named Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson). She loudly expresses her discontent with the current issue of the magazine and proclaims to her army of assistants that pink shall be the new colour of the season. The man to visualize this new look for the magazine is photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire). Avery would like to the look to represent not only the bright and cheerfully nature of the colour but also give it an intellectual side. Their first photo shoot is in a bookstore where they discover the woman who’s the ideal new face Prescott and Avery have been looking for – the awkward and studious Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn).
Avery, using his skills at photography (and dance) to shows Jo how she can be beautiful and intelligent in front of the camera. Jo accepts his coaxing and agrees to be his model. The film then moves to Paris where she becomes a genuine fashion model and falls in love with Avery. But the intellectualism of Paris also grabs her heart, which threatens the new campaign for the magazine. With the power of song and dance love wins out.
As mentioned, Stanley Donen provides us with modern and stylish opening – not just the credit sequence but the establishment of the fashion office, the design of which can be seen all over “Ugly Betty” and “The Devil Wears Prada”. And before Meryl Streep or Vanessa Williams there was Maggie Prescott who establishes the tough as nails fashion editor.
Surprisingly the major disappointment of the film is the song and dance. The “Pink” number is well shot but the music feels 20 years dated and not reflecting the modern look. The first Astaire number which has him developing the famous photo which would grace the cover of the magazine (and become the famous poster for the film) is flat. Astaire’s sings his dialogue and tries his best to express his joy in song, but there’s nothing catchy or fun about the song. The “Bonjour Paris” scene, a neat recreation of Donen’s “New York New York” sequence from “On the Town”, is a wonderful to look at for it’s on-location sequences, but again, the song is bland. The highlight is Astaire’s extended “Let’s Kiss and Make Up”. It’s a classic Astaire sequence which has him using his cane and jacket to mimic a bullfight.
But despite his talents in this scene Astaire is miscast. He was 57 when he made the film, Hepburn was 26. Of course, that’s never stopped Hollywood creating love out of extreme age differences but 31 years is a stretch, plus Astaire actually looks older than 57. He could practically engulf the waify Hepburn in the wrinkles of his forehead.
For a musical to work, and stand the test of time, the sequences have to take the audience out of the film and bring them into another world – a stylistic expression of the emotions of the characters. Unfortunately Donen has made the real world more stylish and interesting than the expressionistic world.
Therefore having made “Singing in the Rain” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and featuring Gershwin music, I expected a similar extravaganza of music and dance. So I was disappointed and recommend this film for Astaire and Hepburn fanatics only.
Buy it here: Funny Face (50th Anniversary Edition)