Funny Face (1957)

2011 #48
Stanley Donen | 99 mins | TV (HD) | U

Funny FaceLike Sabrina, Funny Face has Audrey Hepburn falling in love with someone old enough to be her dad. Fortunately, there’s enough other entertaining stuff going on to keep us distracted from that fact.

But let’s start with the negatives anyway. The plot, about a bookworm intellectual girl reluctantly being drawn into the world of high-fashion, falling in love with a photographer in the process, is as predictable as they come. It doesn’t matter, aside from the aforementioned fact that Fred Astaire is 30 years Hepburn’s senior and, though it’s obvious the characters are destined to get together, it doesn’t feel like the actors should. In fact, I’m not even really sure the characters belong together — of course they’re going to go that way, but the film doesn’t put a great deal of effort into making us believe it.

But the rest of the film does make up for that, with a surfeit of excellent humour, choreography, cinematography, light satire of both the fashion world and the intellectual world… Indeed, dishing out said satire in both directions means the film never comes across as either snobbish or anti-intellectual. It could well have dismissed the shallow world of fashion in favour of the depths of intellectual thought, Funny Danceor dismissed the dullness of philosophy for the glamour of couture, but it takes fair jibes at both equally — it’s not mean-spirited or cynical or dismissive, just… quite true.

All films look better in HD (when well done, naturally), but some seem to benefit more than others. Funny Face is one of those. It looks stunning — vibrant colours (especially in the opening Think Pink sequence), gorgeous location shots of Paris, the smokey confines of the intellectuals’ cafe… It’s a beautiful film. What it lacks in widely-remembered songs it makes up in the stunning visual sequences that accompany them. The opener may again be the standout, even though it features neither of the leads, but Hepburn’s barmy interpretative dance in the Paris cafe is also memorable, as is the three-way Bonjour, Paris!, or Astaire’s solo in the courtyard of Hepburn’s hotel, or their little darkroom number…

The cast are all great; specifically the three leads. Hepburn shows a perhaps-surprising affinity for dance (I wouldn’t say she’s known for it) and singing (she was dubbed in the later My Fair Lady); a rare film role for Kay Thompson as the fashion magazine editor, like Meryl Streep’s take but 50 years early (even the office looks familiar; which means they both look just like Anna Wintour’s — the more things change, etc); and Astaire is, naturally, brilliant.

Funny LeadsFunny Face seems to have plenty of critics — mainly on the notion that Hepburn could be said to have a funny face. Pretty shallow reason to dismiss a whole film, if you ask me. While there are couple of bits that don’t wash with my appreciation — the age gap; I could take or leave the two scenes at the church — there’s far more to love about the film.

4 out of 5

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