Funny Face


Reviewed by: Susanna Krawczyk

Funny Face
"Loses something in its transition to the modern day."

The concept of “Hollywood ugly” is one found in films from all eras, and it’s in full flow here with Audrey Hepburn presented as the titular “funny face”, achieved by giving her an unflattering haircut and having her occasionally contort her features into a quizzical expression. In a plot that is rather convoluted, fashion magazine editor Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) and her photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) discover a bookish young woman named Jo (Hepburn) and transform her into a fashion model, something she agrees to in order to gain a trip to Paris and a chance to meet her philosopher hero. Along the way Jo and Dick share a few musical numbers and generally fulfil the requirements of the romantic comedy.

The trope of the smart girl who learns that it’s fun to be pretty is one that seems to have survived the ages, making this movie not so different from romantic comedies of today. While a bit frivolous and silly, it’s less objectionable to me than the other underlying theme – the much older man romancing a naive young thing. Since Fred Astaire was nearing 60 in contrast to Hepburn in her twenties, the age difference is striking and slightly uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not knocking May-December romances in general, but it was hard to shake the feeling that there was a degree of manipulation going on as Dick held a position of power over Jo and seemed to me to be attempting to bend her to his will from the moment they met. Added to this is a marked lack of chemistry between the leads, with a feeling that it is far from clear they are as meant for one another as the story seems to suggest.

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I’m a fan of musicals generally, and this is not a good musical. The songs are execrable, with lyrics that are groan-inducingly trite and uninspired, tunes that are anything but hummable and – in the case of Hepburn and Thompson, at least – singers who are not up to the task of making them enjoyable. Visually interesting as the film is, with nice effects used to depict the fashion photographs taken of Jo and an artful use of colour and light, if the songs in a musical are as bad as these it's very difficult to look past them to any other merits the movie may have. Certainly the viewer's heart should not sink every time a character begins to sing.

I must confess: until now, I had never seen an Audrey Hepburn movie. I was aware of her reputation as a doe-eyed pixie girl, wearer of pedal-pushers and cultural icon, but had never actually seen any of her films. So it is rather unfortunate that this should turn out to have been my first. I was surprised to learn that it won several awards on its release in 1957 and can only imagine that it loses something in its transition to the modern day, since I found it to be silly and insubstantial at best and slightly creepy and uncomfortable at worst, without even any truly appealing songs to lighten the tone.

Reviewed on: 20 Feb 2009
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Funny Face packshot
A fashion photographer discovers a sales girl's ability as a model and makes her a star.
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Anne-Katrin Titze *****

Director: Stanley Donen

Writer: Leonard Gershe

Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Kay Thompson, Dovima, Michel Auclair, Robert Flemyng

Year: 1957

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US


Glasgow 2009

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