Funny Face (1957)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Funny Face</strong> (1957)

(On Cable TV, January 2019) On paper, Funny Face looks like a perfect combination: A musical comedy with Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn and Paris. Thankfully, the film lives up to expectations: Fred Astaire dances as well as he can, and while Hepburn isn’t quite as much of a dancer as some of Astaire’s other screen partners, she did have dancing (and singing!) chops and couldn’t possibly be cuter as an intellectual bookseller—even Hollywood’s idea of an intellectual bookseller. Paris and Hepburn were a regular item (“Bonjour, Paris !”), but they look great together and the film doesn’t miss a chance to use a French stereotype when it can. (I had to laugh at the spat between two bohemian Parisians: “Salaud ! Dégueulasse ! *Slap* *Kiss*”) Unlike some musicals, Funny Face does have strong comic elements: The look at a fashion magazine—Astaire plays a fashion photographer—is amusing, and seeing both Astaire and Hepburn as black-clad undercover beatniks is hilarious especially as they skewer the philosophical excesses of Left-Bank thinkers. (Alas, Funny Face does have an anti-intellectual bent, but so it goes in musicals.) The romantic ending is more conventional and not as interesting, but as usual the fun is getting there. Less fortunately, you do have to get over the usual Astaire romantic issues in liking the film: His characters are often written as having revolting ideas about consent in the face of romantic persistence (“No” usually means “try again later with more charm” in his movies) and there’s a thirty-year difference between Astaire and Hepburn. That last item used to infuriate me, but then I recently realized that very few people could keep up with Astaire as a dancer—younger actresses at least had a chance to move as quickly and gracefully as he did. (It’s not much of an excuse, but it’s the one I cling to.) If you can manage to get past that, Funny Face is a perfectly charming and enjoyable musical, somewhere between a classic and a strong representative entry in the genre. (While technically a Paramount production, a number of key crewmembers such as director Stanley Donen were from MGM’s legendary Freed unit.) Plus, of course, it’s an essential piece of Hepburn’s filmography by showcasing her at her best.

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