“Every girl on every page of Quality has grace, elegance, and pizzazz. Now what’s wrong with bringing out a girl who has character, spirit, and intelligence?”
When the editor (Kay Thompson) of a women’s fashion magazine declares that she wants a fresh face for the new edition, a photographer (Fred Astaire) points her towards a waifish, philosophy-loving bookstore employee (Audrey Hepburn) who agrees to become a model in exchange for a trip to Paris.
From its vibrant Technicolor palette, to George Davis and Hal Pereira’s stylized art direction, to Givenchy’s seemingly endless display of stunningly chic couture, Stanley Donen’s Funny Face is a stylishly retro visual treat, one it’s truly difficult to tear your eyes away from. The storyline itself, unfortunately, is a little less impressive. Essentially a Pygmalion-tale about an innocent waif seduced by an older mentor into a world of glamour and fame, Hepburn’s “transformation” never rings quite true. She’s a philosophy-loving beatnik who inexplicably falls in love with the much-older Astaire the first time he kisses her, and allows both her weird crush on him — as well as her desire to travel to Paris to meet the fabled philosopher Emile Flostre (Michel Auclair) — to convince her to give the glamorous world of modeling a try. (Oh, how would-be models in the audience at the time must have been simultaneously drooling and seething at the fairy-tale opportunity Hepburn nearly gives up!)
Yet the entire affair — like most musicals at the time — is best viewed simply as a fairy tale, one that shouldn’t be analyzed too closely; as DVD Savant puts it, “Funny Face is meant to be a carefree bubble of jokes and music, and on those terms there’s little to complain about.” While the age difference between Hepburn and Astaire really is too much to swallow (after all, Astaire is no debonairly graying Cary Grant), it’s nonetheless a delight to watch these two dancing on-screen together — or apart, for that matter. Indeed, Hepburn’s best dance is her stunning solo outing in the Beatnik cafe, which is out of sight, man! Meanwhile, Astaire does a fine ditty with a “red cape” outside Hepburn’s apartment window, and there are numerous other fun songs (courtesy of a fine Gershwin score) and dances sprinkled throughout. Film fanatics will also surely be interested to see polymath Kay Thompson — known, among other things, for being one of Judy Garland’s closest confidantes, as well as the creator of the children’s book character Eloise — in one of her precious few screen appearances, here playing the delightfully acerbic, Diana Vreeland-esque fashion magazine editor who drives the entire narrative.
Note: Even non-fashion-lovers will be tempted to rewind the lovely Parisian fashion shoot montage several times — quelle magnifique!
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Audrey Hepburn as Jo
- Kay Thompson as Maggie
- The opening “Think Pink” musical montage
- The Givenchy fashion shoot montage across Paris
- Hepburn’s dazzling beatnik dance
- Astaire’s solo “bullfight” dance
- Marvelous sets, costumes, and art direction
- Ray June’s luminous Technicolor cinematography
- Chic opening titles
- A fine and memorable Gershwin score
Yes, as a classic and stylish ’50s musical.