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FUNNY FACE (director: Stanley Donen; screenwriter: Leonard Gershe/based on his unproduced musical libretto, Wedding Day; cinematographer: Ray June; editor: Frank Bracht; music: George & Ira Gershwin; cast: Audrey Hepburn (Jo Stockton), Fred Astaire (Dick Avery), Michel Auclaire (Professor Emile Flostre), Kay Thompson (Maggie Prescott), Suzy Parker (Specialty Dancer), Robert Flemyng (Paul Duval), Alex Gerry (Dovitch), Dovima (Marion); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Roger Edens; Paramount; 1957)
“A stylish, wistful musical, typical of the 1950s.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A stylish musical, typical of the 1950s. It’s colorfully shot, but the dialogue is unbearable and the thin story is unappealing. It says books are not as important as fashion, as it easily induces the book loving heroine to give up her free-spirited lifestyle to become an icon for the pop culture scene. Hollywood portrays its fake idea of romantic Paris, as we view the Eiffel Tower, intellectual cafes, and fashionable salons. Astaire and Hepburn generate some energy when they go into their song and dance routines, but their romance lacked passion and true feelings. It’s the visual beauty of the sets and the songs by George and Ira Gershwin that leave the film’s most important marks. The songs include: “How Long Has This Been Going On,” “He Loves and She Loves,” and “Let’s Kiss and Make Up.”

Funny Face received Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design and Original Screenplay. Astaire’s character is based on the noted real-life shutterbug Richard Avedon. Avedon was hired as the film’s visual consultant, which explains the film’s breathtaking still shots of Audrey as the chic model on location in Paris.

The fast-talking, arrogant, and bossy editor of the foremost women’s fashion magazine, Quality, Maggie Prescot (Kay Thompson), is unsatisfied with some of the recent issues and is looking for a new promotional pitch. She decides that the magazine needs to put a new type of woman on the cover. She’s to represent the best in fashion and be a model for all women. To do this, she enlists the help of her fast-thinking photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire-he was 57 when the film was shot), and along with her regular crew they burst in on an antiquated Greenwich Village bookstore to do a photo shoot with harebrained model Marion. They have little success making Marion look intelligent, even when surrounded by books. But Dick finds possibilities in using the young, frumpy and studious-minded bookstore clerk Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn) as the model, as she projects character — a new virtue for a woman model. Despite Maggie’s objection that Jo has a ‘funny face’, Dick talks her into it. But Jo’s not excited about fashion and is instead an avid follower of a Parisian philospher’s school of thought about empatheticalism, a philosophy based on feeling what another person feels. When Dick tells her they’ll pay her to go to Paris and be the model for a new line of clothes by famous fashion designer Paul Duval, she jumps at the chance to go to Paris and see the one she idolizes, philosophy Professor Flostre (Auclaire), and continue her studies there. She also falls in love with Dick, who works his magic on her with just one kiss and a few alluring looks.

Under Stanley Donen’s light-hearted directing touch, the film was pleasant but unimportant. The predictable romance between the charming Astaire and the enchanting Audrey, who goes from plain looking to chic, comes off as expected. The professor proves to be only a minor foil in the romance, as the storybook characters dance and sing their way to a happy romantic ending. It’s all unbelievable, but in the world of Hollywood musicals no one is supposed to care about that.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”