Astaire loves Hepburn's... Funny Face (1957)

It was 2008. My sister and I were wandering around Target aimlessly. Naturally, I gravitated to the movie section -- I was about a year into my obsession with classic films, and I was still in that phase where every old movie I found, my heart burst because I never saw it before and I was so excited that a mainstream place like Target would have it and therefore acknowledge that my adoration wasn't all in my head, that others enjoyed it as well and my growing passion wasn't a lost cause. I still get a twinge of that every now and then, but nothing like when I laid eyes on Funny Face in that Target aisle. Fred Astaire was already one of my favorites, and of course I knew about Audrey Hepburn but I had really only seen Roman Holiday. Finding out that these two megastars had made a movie together blew. my. mind. And yet, for some reason, I didn't buy it. Somehow my sister talked me out of it and the second we left the store, I regretted it. And I let my sister know how upset I was for three days straight. On the fourth day, my dad was driving us by Target when I began my tirade again and, bless that man, he offered to stop so I could buy Funny Face. You could have seen my sister's eye roll from outer space, but the joy I felt when I had the DVD in my hands at the checkout line is something I relive every time I watch the movie.

This is all to prepare you for the immense praise I'll be heaping on this film. Granted, on my blog I hardly ever talk about movies I don't like, but Funny Face is really something special and timeless. You have eternal icons Astaire and Hepburn, the incredibly sweet music of the Gershwin brothers (with additions from Roger Edens and Leonard Gershe), the most beautiful clothes from Givenchy, and the always
impressive setting of Paris. However, the one thing that repeatedly strikes me at every viewing is just how gorgeous this film looks. I have never seen a movie, classic or modern, that looks like this one. I think we need to credit two people with that: Stanley Donen, the brilliant director, and the film's inspiration/visual consultant, photographer Richard Avedon. The compositions and ideas in the "Think Pink" montage and the images during the opening credits both have his fingerprints all over them, and it makes the movie truly unique. Without Avedon's direct involvement, I'm not sure Funny Face would be quite as enduring as it is.

Quality magazine editor and all-around goddess Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) is having trouble finding her inspiration for the upcoming issue. Nothing looks right and her group of yes women aren't helping. But like a bolt of lightning, she gets a glimpse of a shade of pink and finds herself singing that everyone should "Think Pink." Cue the delightfully wacky montage! "Think Pink" demonstrates the power of Maggie and her
position as someone high up in the fashion industry. It's something that still goes on today, although maybe not as far-reaching. We've all seen the magazine covers in the checkout line at the grocery store touting that flannel is back in style (didn't even know it left) and that vintage clip-on earrings are now the new thing and so on. Funny Face purposely exaggerates this kind of influence
as the montage is made up of models doing advertisements for things like pink toothpaste and pink shampoo. The Quality offices are even painted pink, with Maggie's yes women dressed in the color too. Funnily enough, when Maggie is asked why she isn't wearing pink, she says "I wouldn't be caught dead!" I want to be Maggie Prescott when I grow up.

Besides making everything pink, Maggie decides that the next issue will be focused on selling clothes to women who aren't interested in clothes. It's supposed to be about brilliant women who don't care for fashion but still wear chic things, and it's not going smoothly. Maggie's top photographer Dick Avery (Astaire) is hard at work on it, but his model Marion (frequent model for Avedon, Dovima) is
trying too hard to look smart while she gazes at a statue, frustrating Dick. Maggie bursts onto the scene and agrees that it just doesn't look right. Maybe a change of scenery would help, like a bookstore? Everyone piles into two taxis and search for "one of those dreary little places in Greenwich Village," Maggie picking the Embryo Concepts bookshop. The group swoops in and takes over the
shop, angering the clerk, Jo Stockton (Hepburn). Mousy with a shapeless sack of a dress, Jo gets walked all over by Maggie, Dick advising her that "One doesn't talk to Maggie Prescott, one only listens." After being used for a prop in one of Marion's shots, Jo is infuriated and has to be locked out so they can continue their shoot. The ghastly group finally departs, leaving the bookstore in a mess.

Dick stays behind to help Jo put things back where they belong and their different ideologies are immediately on display. "A man of your talent wasting his time photographing silly dresses on silly women... Trees are beautiful. Why don't you photograph trees?" "My work is very pleasant, the pay is excellent, and I get a free trip to Paris every year." "I certainly envy you that. I'd be in Paris now if I could afford it." Explaining her belief in sympaticalism and empathy, Dick surprises Jo by kissing her. "Why did you do that?" "Empathy -- I put myself in your place and felt that you wanted to be kissed." "I'm afraid that you put yourself in the wrong place. I have no desire to be kissed, by you or anyone else." Slightly embarrassed, Dick makes his exit.

Confused by what she feels after the kiss, Jo wonders "How Long Has This Been Going On?" One of the joys of Funny Face is that no one was dubbed -- it's a Hollywood miracle! Audrey may not have had the finest voice, but not everyone can be Judy Garland or Doris Day. I happen to really enjoy her voice, and yes, I'm one of those who is outraged by what they did to her on My Fair Lady. Finding a hat from the photo shoot, Jo plays with it
as she reflects on what just happened. "How Long Has This Been Going On?" actually helped Hepburn a few years later for Breakfast at Tiffany's. When it was time for him to write a song for Holly Golightly, Henry Mancini caught FF on TV and watched this number to figure out her range so the resulting song, "Moon River," would suit her to her best advantage.

Back at Quality headquarters, Maggie talks about her newest idea, the Quality Woman. "She's got to have pizzazz!" It can't be just any model, it has to be someone new and fresh. Dick enters the room with his nomination for the title: Jo. Horrified but willing to give Jo a shot, Maggie tells Dick she'll consider it if he brings her blow-ups of her shots from the bookstore. She then has her secretary place a large
order at the store so Jo will be forced to bring the books to the office. Once there, she's accosted by Maggie and her assistants, who aggressively try to give Jo a makeover. When the oversized scissors come out, Jo makes it clear that she will not let them cut her hair or tweeze her eyebrows. She makes a break for it and the assistants chase after her, causing her to hide in the nearest room.

That room happens to be Dick's darkroom. He admits that it's his fault the goons are on her tail, and Jo is confounded that anyone would want to put her in a fashion magazine. "I have no illusions about my looks. I think my face is funny," she says, but Dick disagrees, assuaging her insecurity by saying "When I get through with you, you'll look like -- what do you call beautiful? A tree. You'll look like
a tree." It also helps when he begins singing "Funny Face." The couple does a little dance and by the time it's over, Jo is ready to give the modeling business a try, albeit reticently. As she sees it, it's a means to an end -- she'll get a free trip to Paris, where she can spend time chatting about philosophy in cafes and attending the lectures of her idol, Prof. Flostre. Once their plane lands, our three stars sneak off to do
sightseeing without telling each other; after all, they don't want to look like common tourists! Quel horreur! Their adventures inspire "Bonjour, Paris," a fun travelogue that makes you yearn to join them. I'm definitely listening to this song as I arrive in Paris, whenever that will be. By song's end, Maggie, Jo, and Dick bump into each other at the Eiffel Tower and have a good laugh at their failed slyness.

Later, Maggie is impatiently waiting for Jo at the boutique of Paul Duval, the designer who is going to create a collection exclusively for the Quality Woman. When Dick hears that she hasn't shown up, he has a feeling he knows where to find her. At a smoky and dank cafe, his feeling is proven correct when he sees Jo chatting up three Frenchmen who turn out to be sticking around because Jo is buying
their drinks. Annoyed by Dick's smugness, Jo befuddles him even more by dancing out her frustration after telling him that dancing is a good use of expression. Like Breakfast at Tiffany's, "Basal Metabolism" is a part of Audrey's legacy that people seem to only vaguely know the details about; they've seen the posters and they recognize the outfits, but that's about it. You might know
"Basal" from a Gap commercial that aired years ago that featured Audrey's dancing set to AC/DC's song "Back to Black." The number is eccentric, to say the least. Eugene Loring's choreography matches the bohemian setting to a T, and while the dance had my sister scratching her head when she watched it with me in 2008, I loved it. Audrey gets to be weird and it's tremendous.

Walking Jo back to her apartment, Dick makes things worse by poking fun at her interest in talking about philosophy, saying it's just small talk. Jo puts him in his place: "Anything you can't understand you call small talk." When I get better at cross-stitching, you best believe I'm putting that on something. They part on bad terms, so to apologize, Dick performs "Let's Kiss and Make Up" to Jo
beneath her balcony. There's a bull, a great trench coat, and Astaire with an umbrella involved, so check it out. The next day, Jo makes good on her promise to show up at Duval's, where she is transformed into a high-fashion model. To be honest, whenever the Big Reveal comes, I'm never that impressed -- there's really not that much of a difference between Bookworm Jo and Chic Jo.
Audrey looks completely natural as both of them, so... Anyway, while Duval and his team work on the collection, Jo and Dick are sent out on numerous photo shoots around Paris. It's a fantastic sequence, a mix of film footage and pictures I'm assuming Richard Avedon took of Audrey. I'm not sure how many days we're talking here, but as the photos progress, Jo gains more and more confidence until suddenly she's providing poses and backstories for her "characters" instead of Dick. You can watch the whole thing here. I put my own screenshots of it at the end of this post, per usual.

On the last day of the photo shoots, Jo is made up like a bride and posed outside of a sweet country church. Something is wrong, though -- Jo admits she feels "dishonest" pretending to be a bride, when really she's sad that her time with Dick is almost over. Standing alone by a river, Dick realizes that Jo is in love with him. Initially surprised, he believes he feels the same way. "He Loves and She Loves" is an exquisite number, filmed dreamily with swans in the background and lots of soft focus. This is all movie magic, of course. In reality, the ground was horribly muddy, making the dance very hard to do. At one point, Hepburn joked "Here I've been waiting twenty years to dance with Fred Astaire, and what do I get? Mud!" Being professionals, though, you can't even detect a trace of their discomfort in the scene. It all comes off beautifully.

From that song, we go to another as Maggie teaches Jo "How to be Lovely" in preparation for her introduction as the Quality Woman to the press. It's laughable that someone has to coach Audrey on being lovely, but the gals sell the hell out of the song. It's adorable, really. Eventually, the night before the show arrives, which is when Jo is supposed to meet the press. She's all dolled up and ready to go, but
while waiting for Dick to pick her up, she hears that Prof. Flostre is speaking at a cafe. She decides to peek in real quick and is shocked to discover that Flostre, played by Michel Auclair, is younger and more handsome than she expected. Looking darling in her black and white polka dot dress and blue coat with matching gloves, Flostre practically licks his lips as he flirts with an unaware Jo. Jealous, Dick drags her out and tells her that the philosopher isn't
interested in her mind. The remark reminds Jo how different they are, but she's also insulted that Dick doesn't trust her judgment. According to the film, Dick's cynicism equals experience, or rather his older age, while Jo's optimism means inexperience, re: she hasn't totally grown up yet. Their argument grows as they make their way to the press conference until it gets so heated that both of them ruin the conference, earning them unwanted front-page news.

Thanks to the bad press, Duval's collection and Maggie's magazine will be ruined if the fashion show doesn't go through. Jo is nowhere to be found, but Maggie's secretary gathers from Jo's phone messages that she'll be meeting with Flostre at his home, a den for beatniks. Donning their best bohemian clothes, and ridiculous facial hair for Dick, he and Maggie infiltrate the house by pretending to be followers of Flostre's visiting from good ol' Tallahassee, Florida. They see Jo be led upstairs by Flostre, but to keep up their ruse, they have to perform something like the rest of the beatniks have. Their number, "Clap Yo' Hands," is such a treat. Astaire fakes playing a guitar and doesn't even try to do it correctly; Thompson is a fierce ball of energy; the lyrics are almost nonsensical. If anyone ever needed proof that Ms. Thompson was a supreme talent, they should look no further.

Having pacified the crowd, Dick and Maggie burst into Flostre's room where he's obviously attempting to seduce Jo. After accidentally causing Flostre to fall and hit his head, Jo orders Dick to leave. He does her one better by declaring he's going back to New York immediately. Once alone again, Flostre's motives are undeniable and Jo is forced to knock him out to escape. She hurries to the fashion
show to apologize to Dick, but he's checking out of his hotel and headed to the airport. Maggie has her secretary phone and search for him while Jo goes through with the show. By the end of it, she believes she's too late and runs away. Meanwhile at the airport, Dick sees Flostre with a bandaged head on the tarmac and apologizes. When he hears that Jo was the one who caused the injury, Dick races
to Duval's. When he finds she's not there, Maggie suggests he employ Flostre's philosophy of empathy to figure out where she could be. "Maggie, you ought to be president!" "I thought I was!" Dick rushes to the church in Chantilly where he and Jo had first said they loved each other. Still wearing the bridal gown from Duval's collection, Jo is lost in thought until she hears Dick behind her. She falls into his arms and they sing "S'Wonderful" in celebration.

Funny Face is the definition of charm and class. I'll just say it now: I think it's a perfect movie. Big statement, I know, but I can't think of a single thing I would change about it, everything is that excellent. While it was always supposed to star Astaire and Hepburn, it was originally slated to be made at MGM, something Paramount was not about to agree to since Hepburn was one of their biggest assets. Famed MGM producer Arthur Freed conceded the movie to Paramount, and uncharacteristically lent a lot of his top talent to the project: cinematographer Ray June, Stanley Donen, musical director Adolph Deutsch, music arranger Conrad Salinger, Eugene Loring, and Freed unit producer/genius Roger Edens. Reportedly, when Hepburn was first brought the project, she immediately picked Astaire as her leading
man. Worried about their age difference, the dancer wasn't so sure about the film, but he liked the idea of getting to work with Audrey. Noticing how nervous she was at their first meeting, he "literally swept me off my feet," Audrey said, dancing her around the room so she could relax. The man was such a darling, I can't even handle it. I love looking at behind-the-scenes photos of them together.

Nominated for Academy Awards for original screenplay, best cinematography, costume design, and art direction, the film lost in all categories. Of all the nominations, I can't believe it lost for its costumes. (The winner? Orry-Kelly for Les Girls.) While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, Funny Face is not to be missed. If you can't find one thing you like about it, I don't think I want to know you.



































With love,
Michaela

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This is my second of two posts for the France on Film Blogathon, an exciting event I'm thrilled to be participating in. Do yourself a favor and check out the delightful roster here.

Comments

  1. i LOVE this movie! Thank you for such a charming and glorious entry to the France On Film Blogathon. I loved your story about the Target adventure, I am so happy that the film did not disappoint, your dad sounds pretty awesome!
    -Summer

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    1. This blogathon has been so great! I loved getting an opportunity to talk about this film and Silk Stockings. Thanks for hosting!

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  2. Loved your story about buying this DVD at Target. I know the feeling of buying a movie you know you're going to love. There's nothing like it.

    Your love for this movie is evident. If I meet anyone who's lukewarm about it, I'm sending them to your review. You'll make a believer out of them! :)

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    1. Thank you! I didn't mean for this review to be so effusive, but Funny Face just brings it out of me, I guess. I welcome all non-believers! If Fred, Audrey, and Kay can't help them, no one can.

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  3. I love the way you love this film! It is indeed a feast for the eyes and ears and a fashionista's dream come true. What more could you want? Although, I am sure I am not alone in preferring the bookstore version of Jo.

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    1. Being a bookworm myself, I've always enjoyed the character of Jo. I love that she sticks to her beliefs and doesn't let Dick bully her out of them. I'll admit, the first time I saw this movie a small part of me was worried that once Jo got a makeover, she'd forget philosophy and replace it with an obsession of clothes and modeling.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. This film is one of my all-time favourites and I too wouldn't change a thing about it (except maybe to own AH's wardrobe!). I was so delighted to discover that a bookworm like Jo could come to love fashion and magazines and for a long time it inspired me to want to me a fashion journalist... which I was until I discovered it wasn't quite how it looked in the movies ;)
    Great addition to the blogathon and a wonderful review!

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    1. Thank you! Funny Face does present a rather fun and rosy perspective on fashion journalism, doesn't it? I've found Jo to be a marvelous character over the years. In fact, I recommended this movie to my best friend in high school because I knew she would identify with Jo, and it's now one of her favorites. You're right about that wardrobe, too -- we should all be so lucky to be outfitted in such gorgeous Givenchy. I think my favorite outfit changes with every viewing.

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  5. I love this film as well! I actually skipped my first day of school in my senior year of high school to watch it (and it was totally worth it, because I loathed high school). Indeed, it has a very modern look and an adorable pairing. Who could have imagined that Fred and Audrey would fit so well?
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Kisses!
    Le
    http://www.criticaretro.blogspot.com

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    1. I've skipped some college classes to see classics on the big screen -- totally justifiable, in my opinion. Fred and Audrey are indeed a great pair. I think they came together at the right time too when you look at where they were in their careers. Audrey wouldn't have worked in his '30s or '40s periods (you know, if she had been around) and he wouldn't have fit in her '60s period. There's a sweet spot they were lucky to hit at the same time, if I'm making any sense.

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    2. BTW, I answered your 11 Liebster questions on Tumblr:
      http://vintageclassicscrapbook.tumblr.com/post/137169479557/another-liebster-came-my-way-this-time-coming

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    3. Great, I'll go check them out now!

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