SO BEAUTIFUL, YOU WON’T BELIEVE YOUR EYES!
The location shooting in Paris did reportedly not go as well as hoped for, due to bad weather (which shows in a very rainy sequence) and political turbulence in the city; this was during the war in Algeria and shortly before the collapse of the Fourth Republic. Still, Paris remains a place of romance and magic, which shows in the film. Funny Face is not as talked about as some of Stanley Donen’s other musicals, but it deserves to be. This is one of his most visually stunning endeavors.
Pink is the color of the season
In New York City, Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) is the powerful editor of Quality magazine; she’s pretty much the woman who tells other women what’s in fashion. One day, she has an idea – pink is the color of the season and together with top photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) she wants to find a model who can combine beauty with brains. Together with an entourage, they head to a bookshop in Greenwich Village and barge in, to the surprise and horror of Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn) who’s running the shop. Maggie and Dick want to shoot their model in intellectual surroundings; Jo finds herself pushed aside.
As Dick subsequently stays to help her get the shop back the way it looked before the photo shoot, he gives her an impulsive kiss. Jo rejects him… but their paths cross again.
Designed by a legendary photographer
The film feels luxurious right from the start. The opening titles were designed by the legendary photographer Richard Avedon (who also inspired Astaire’s character in the film). Highlighting the work and tools of a photographer, it also has a series of stylish photos, including a famous one of Hepburn that’s overexposed, showing only the basic features of her face.
The film continues in the same artistic vein, with beautifully designed music performances and a touristy sequence in Paris that shows the city at its best; cinematographer Ray June’s work really deserved its Oscar nomination. When it comes to the aesthetics, perhaps the most interesting part is Hepburn and Astaire’s visits to a bohemian café where young people in turtlenecks read poetry to each other, perform acrobatics, play jazz and sing suicidal songs on the guitar to each other. An offbeat venue for Astaire as a representative of an older generation (and a more conservative Hollywood), but Hepburn turns out to fit in nicely, even performing a dance solo that is one of the film’s most memorable musical performances.
As for the musical itself, the film’s title was borrowed from a 1920s Broadway show. Astaire did perform in it, and there’s a few George and Ira Gershwin songs from the musical providing a backbone for Donen’s movie. But writer Leonard Gershe lifted the plot from ”Wedding Bells”, another Broadway musical that he wrote. The story has intellectual ambition, as Jo is an amateur philosopher who spends a lot of time pondering the meaning of empathy and idealizing the academic aspects of Paris, an amusing contrast to the photographer she falls in love with, who is all about the practicalities of his job.
Everything in this film is topnotch, except for the romance; it’s not easy to believe in the budding love affair between Dick and Jo because of the 30-year age difference. Hepburn reportedly demanded Astaire as her co-star and the reason is obvious, helping us accept them as a couple: they are simply incredibly charming and so good at what they do. Why wouldn’t Hepburn want the best, regardless of his age? There’s also Thompson, usually behind the camera as a musical director, but wonderful on the stage as the bossy magazine editor, a character based on Vogue’s legendary Diana Vreeland.
Funny Face 1957-U.S. 103 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Roger Edens. Directed by Stanley Donen. Screenplay: Leonard Gershe. Cinematography: Ray June. Art Direction: George W. Davis, Hal Pereira. Costume Design: Edith Head, Hubert de Givenchy. Cast: Audrey Hepburn (Jo Stockton), Fred Astaire (Dick Avery), Kay Thompson (Maggie Prescott), Michael Auclair, Suzy Parker, Ruta Lee.
Trivia: Cyd Charisse was reportedly considered for the lead.
Last word: “I made sure most of the things that happened could have at least really happened. But I found the whole piece charming, so light and refreshing, that I didn’t have too many objections. How could you, when you got to see Audrey Hepburn every day.” (Avedon on his role as a photographer and consultant, “Audrey Hepburn: An Intimate Portrait”)