Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn are two Hollywood legends. Astaire's career was prevalent during the Thirties and Forties. He is regarded as one of the greatest dancers to hit the silver screen and is best remembered for his earlier films with Ginger Rogers. Hepburn was a trained ballerina who sang and danced her way into the hearts of many and would later star in the classic films "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "My Fair Lady." In 1957, the two dancing screen icons teamed up for "Funny Face." The twenty-eight year old Hepburn and the fifty-eight year old Astaire brought the 1927 Broadway success featuring songs by brothers Ira and George Gershwin. This loose adaptation of the Broadway show contained only four songs from the musical and greatly altered the plot. Hepburn would later state that "Funny Face" was one of her favorite films, as it gave her the opportunity to dance with Fred Astaire.
The teaming up of Astaire and Hepburn creates both the film's greatest strength and its greatest weakness. Fred Astaire is perhaps the greatest actor to dance his way in front of a camera. Bing Crosby and a few others left their mark, but it is hard to think of anybody that can top Astaire aside from possibly Gene Kelly. Hepburn is a name that often comes to mind when you think of a legendary leading lady and she was one of the more talented dancers from the golden years of cinema. Watching Astaire and Hepburn paired together surely must be a treat for musical aficionados. I'm certainly no expert on musicals and dancing, but I've seen a large number of them over the years. The song and dance numbers contained in this film are quite good. They are catchy and memorable. Both actors are given a solo opportunity to shine and each handles their duties with grace and poise. The film's strongest point is definitely in the dancing sequences.
Astaire and Hepburn also deliver the film's Achilles heal. With Astaire being more than twice the age of the young and energetic Hepburn, the believability of their relationship is a tough pill to swallow. From the early moments of the film when Astaire makes an aggressive move and kisses Hepburn to the final reconciliation between the two I could not find myself accepting that this was a likely pairing. I attempted to reason with myself that the character of Jo Stockton (Hepburn) had a father figure complex and was looking for an older man in Dick Avery (Astaire). Her character was that of a very intelligent young lady and this reasoning didn't seem to fit. I then tried to force myself into believing that Jo needed an older man to match her well above average intellect. This too fell apart when Professor Flostre (Michel Auclair) is introduced. No matter how I tried to slice it, there seemed no way that the much older Avery could win the heart of the lovely young Jo with just one kiss as depicted in the film. Their chemistry was decent, but as a pair they only succeeded while dancing.
The plot finds the editor of Quality Magazine, Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson), trying to find a new ‘it' girl who would become the face of the magazine and have an entire fashion line behind them for the campaign. The new model must be both intelligent and beautiful. While on a photo shoot, Prescott and her photographer Dick Avery stumble across a pretty young bookstore clerk. The girl, Jo Stockton, does not want anything to do with the fashion world and speaks poorly of fashion and modeling. Maggie forces Jo out of the bookstore and when Maggie leaves, the place is left in shambles. Jo is terribly upset with the condition of her place and finds Avery remaining behind to help clean the place up. Their discussion leads to a philosophical discussion and Avery kisses Jo and states that he philosophized that she wanted a kiss. Jo acts terribly distraught that the forward move by the photographer was made and Avery leaves.
Some time later Maggie, her girls and Avery talks about the need to find a fresh new face for the magazine and its new campaign. Avery tells them that he has somebody in mind that would be perfect and mentions Jo. The girls are told to order a large sum of books from the bookstore in an attempt to get Jo to arrive. Once she does, Jo is nearly stripped down to her underwear by the overly anxious fashion workers and they attempt to cut her hair on the spot. This sends Jo running in panic as she believes that Maggie and everybody else in the fashion world are completely insane. With almost no place to hide, Jo takes cover in a darkroom, where Avery is processing the photographs from the photo shoot at the bookstore. They talk for a short while and Avery uses knowledge from their earlier conversation to lure Jo to Paris, where the famous philosopher Emile Flostre resides. Jo would love to meet Flostre and discuss his views on philosophy and reluctantly agrees to be the Quality cover girl.
Maggie had previously stated that Jo has a funny face. However, they quickly realize her striking beauty when they begin to dress her up and make her up for the various photo shoots. She struggles to find the acting touch necessary, but her enthusiasm and naïve nature result in some impressive photographs. When Jo is wearing a wedding dress, she begins to get teary eyed. From the moment she was first kissed by Avery, Jo has been in love with him and her affections are starting to become harder to contain. Eventually, they fall deeper and deeper for each other and this helps Jo become a more affable model for Maggie and has Jo in a mood of loving Paris. For a short time, her meeting with Professor Flostre becomes a lesser priority. She is with the man she loves and she is loving the new profession he has introduced her to.
When Jo finally meets Flostre, trouble begins to brew. Flostre is instantly attracted to the young girl and makes advances towards her. Jo is naïve and does not see his intentions and when the jealous Avery mentions them, she is pushed away. After Jo becomes wrapped up in the philosophical discussions with Avery, she distances herself away from Quality magazine. Maggie and Avery decide they need to save Jo from the amorous Professor and show up with a plan. The plan doesn't work and a scuffle breaks out between Avery and Flostre. The plan backfires and only places Jo further into the Professor's world. Unfortunately for Jo, Avery was not acting out entirely in jealousy. He understood what Flostre's true intentions were and eventually the good Professor makes a move towards Jo and attempts to force himself onto her. Jo fights back and breaks a vase over his head and attempts to flee back to Avery. However, Avery has already left to catch a plane and after already wrecking the Quality campaign, Jo is now ruining a relationship she desperately wants. Of course, they get back together before the credits roll.
While I have to give props to the musical numbers and both accomplished dancers fancy footwork, I was not overly impressed with the story and I abhorred the casting choice of having Hepburn and Astaire as love interests. "Funny Face" is a musical and musicals typically do not have a powerful storyline. There are the exceptions, but you can never confuse this film with "The Sound of Music" or "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas" (Sorry, my personal favorite). The plot speeds along to set up the major story occurrences and leaves little to no filler in between. The movie feels rushed to simply set up more song and dance numbers and leaves no character development time in between. One moment Jo hates Maggie and the world of fashion and the next moment she is her pawn and has already arrived in Paris. Jo's sudden departure from her happy existence to the philosophical musings by Flostre is another oddly felt story arc. The love affair feels hokey. The story feels watered down and rushed. There is a little comedy, but it is few and far between and dialogue is a little on the weak side.
This film was definitely created to showcase the talents of its two leads. This was a rare instance where Audrey Hepburn was given the opportunity to sing her own songs. Her voice was dubbed over for "My Fair Lady." If you want to sit back and enjoy the nicely choreographed and masterfully executed dance sequences, then "Funny Face" is a movie that will easily fulfill your wants. It is a visual tour de force with two wonderfully talented people strutting their stuff. They just aren't given much story to work and anything not dealing with music was simply given the backseat during the film's production. It isn't a bad film, but without the musical element, "Funny Face" would find itself with two left feet and stumble miserably. Given the simple fact that most people watch a musical for the singing and dancing, it is ultimately an average or better musical. I prefer a good Rogers or Hammerstein musical, or something starring Bing Crosby. This was still entertaining even considering its shortcomings.
"Funny Face" was shot in 1.85:1 VistaVision, a high quality 35mm process. The film received a Special Citation from the National Board of Review for its achievements in photography. It also earned an Oscar nomination for Director of Photography Ray June for Best Cinematography. The film also earned kudos for its costumes and other visual aspects. Films processed in VistaVision have typically translated well to the DVD world and "Funny Face" is no exception. The films lush colors look spectacular on DVD and detail is strong enough that I almost forgot I was watching the film in standard definition and not high definition. The opening musical sequence that highly touted the color pink started off strongly and showed how sharp the visuals were and the film did not quit until the final credits rolled. With Astaire and Hepburn dancing in colorful outfits against richly colored backdrops, "Funny Face" is a strong looking film.
The photography methods used definitely allow the film to look well above average on DVD. However, there are a few flaws in the film due to the nature of the film's style. I'm not sure if the intention was to help hide Fred Astaire's age, but there are a number of scenes contained in the film where a soft filter was used or Vaseline was spread over the lens to give an intentional blurry and lesser detailed presentation. Another reason could have been to make some of the dance scenes feel ‘dreamy.' It is definitely apparent that these soft scenes were intended to be as such, but it still detracts from the overall high quality of the transfer. Colors hold up strong through the film, regardless of detail. Some of the more unique moments involve the Jo photo shoots and watching the color plates change to create the various photographs created in the film was an interesting aspect of the film. Edge enhancement is not a problem. Film grain is mostly absent and the source materials were in good shape. I was very impressed with the look of this wildly colorful picture and even if I didn't find the story to be that captivating, it was a quality visual experience.
For the fiftieth anniversary release of "Funny Face," Paramount has provided five language tracks for the film. The original English Mono soundtrack is provided along with French, Spanish and Portuguese Mono foreign language support. However, the real gem of the release is the English 5.1 surround mix that showcases a very nice modern update to the classic musical. It is a given that any musical requires a solid soundtrack and aside from purists who will not want to stray from the nice mono mix, the multi-channel surround track provides a lot of oomph for the George and Ira Gershwin songs and the singing voices of Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn. The low frequency effects channel echoes a nice touch of bass that could perhaps have been a little stronger, but nicely contrasts the strong high ends that bring the music and songs to life fifty years after the film was first released. Rear surrounds are used sparingly with nice effect and a few ambient sounds can be heard coming from the rear channels as well as some moments where the score is contained in the rear. Many mono mixes that have been upgraded to 5.1 surround lack a solid rear presence and this film is an example of how it isn't easy to expand one channel to an convincing surround setting. Regardless, the dialogue and the singing voices come across very nicely. "Funny Face" sounds very clean. This is a perfectly good sounding rendition of a film that dates back to 1957.
The new special edition release of "Funny Face" finds only about fifteen minutes of additional features over the previous DVD release that is now nearing the ten year mark in age. The first of the new vignettes is The Fashion Designer and His Muse (8:11). This feature looks at the relationship between Audrey Hepburn and costume designer Hubert de Givenchy. The feature talks a little bit about the petite and lovely leading lady and for its short length, this is a nice feature. The second new bit is Parisian Dreams (7:43) and looks at the various sets used in Paris for the film. This was not as nice as the first vignette, but it is worth the quick look involved in watching it. Paramount in the 50's – Retrospective Feature (9:37) is carried over from the former DVD release and talks about many of the films created during Paramount in the 1950s. This hardly relates to "Funny Face," but I thought this little promotional feature was fun. A Photo Gallery and the original Theatrical Trailer are also included. I love old trailers.
"Funny Face" is a classic little musical featuring the wonderful talents of Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire starring in the only film in which they collaborated. The dancing is about as good as it gets and the musical numbers by the Gershwin brothers are memorable. I didn't particularly buy into Hepburn and Astaire as being believable love interests, but considering the purpose of the film was to dance and sing, this doesn't keep "Funny Face" from being considered a classic. As a musical, it is an above average entry. As a film, it is average at best. Finding a musical that is also a powerful film is rare. At least, in my opinion there have not been many. There are a few musicals I hold in high regards in all areas, but this is one to watch solely for its song and dance. The new 50th Anniversary DVD release features two nice little vignettes, but an incredibly sharp looking picture and solid sound. The original mono track sounds good and the new 5.1 track has a more powerful presence. This is a nice presentation of the film and I'm sure fans will be pleased.