Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.
FUNNY FACE (1957)
My introduction to Audrey Hepburn was My Fair Lady, a musical where an older guy grabs her off the street and shows her how to be pretty. Funny Face, released seven years prior, is… a musical where an older guy grabs Audrey Hepburn off the street and shows her how to be pretty. Well, sort of. To Paris!
Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) has a dilemma. She’s the editor of a fashion magazine and is desperate to be ahead of the latest trends. She sends her photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) to a New York bookshop for his latest shoot, because chicks dig that reading shit. While snapping pics of some traditionally glamorous model, they notice plain little bookworm Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn) stocking shelves in the background, and suddenly get to thinking that average women might really relate to average women.
Yes, the title refers to the breathtakingly
beautiful Audrey Hepburn having a weird face.
They offer Jo a modeling gig, but she’s not interested… until they mention flying to Paris, which is where her favorite philosopher lives, so she accepts just to have a chance to talk to him. Worlds collide, as the fashion-minded teach her how to be fabulous and she teaches them how to be existential. Also, smoochies.
“Oh, uh, hi.”
Lest you think the image above is a spoiler, you should know that it happens in the first sixteen minutes, and it’s nonconsensual. Yup, Jo’s describing the concept of empathy to the aptly named Dick, who thinks, “Got it,” and plants one on her, explaining that when he attempted to understand how she was feeling, he came to the conclusion that she wanted his mouth all over hers. And because this is a movie, she decides that she totally did!
Hooray, now we don’t have to feel bad!
“Oh, Bill, come on,” Hypothetical You That Talks to the Computer Screen is saying. “You’re getting hung up on what is probably one questionable scene.” Noop, quite a lot of this movie is policing Jo’s opinions, from appearance to philosophy to romance. There’s even a scene where Dick scolds her for spending time with a guy who’s “about as interested in your intellect as I am.” Pardon? Can somebody break that sentence down in a way that isn’t awful?
“Hey, only I get to want to fuck you, and not for your brains.”
If you’re expecting me to conclude that this story is total crap, here’s where we’re in trouble… because it’s a lot of fun. Sorry, not sorry? But just as there’s plenty of outdated garbage in My Fair Lady, Funny Face tucks a couple of shitty messages inside of a story that’s otherwise very entertaining, both comically and romantically. You, a responsible adult, can watch it and continue not being a jerk around the iffy parts. But maybe have a talk about it afterward if there are any small kiddos in the room.
Audrey Hepburn is a perfect human being, obviously, but her Jo Stockton is very sweet and warm and quirky and she stands up for herself whenever somebody mocks her intellectual pursuits. Well, I mean, she stands up for herself as much as she can without stopping the story from proceeding.
“Fuck your sexist bullshit!” – Jo Stockton, not even once.
Fred Astaire’s Dick Avery is a bit charming but mostly kind of pushy. The only other Fred Astaire movie I’ve seen is Top Hat (which Cinemanaut John points out is two letters away from being titled Stop That), in which he harasses the everloving fuck out of Ginger Rogers to the point of stealing her carriage. Is he this much of a creep in every role?
Like vampires, Fred Astaire may only enter your home by invitation.
Kay Thompson is a delightful bitch as Maggie Prescott, chief editor of Quality magazine. Yes, she has some kind moments, but she’s at her comedic best when she’s barking orders at underlings or casually referring to Jo as a “creature” or “thing.” Yeah, her character is mean, but at least the film knows that and lets her have cruel fun with it.
Kneel before Prescott!
Honestly, this is a pretty tight story focusing on just three major characters, but I suppose I should mention the smaller part of Michel Auclair as philosophy professor Emile Flostre, who is very good at being deep and French.
THE SONGS AND DANCES:
Ka-BOOM, the first song is amazing even though I have no idea what it has to do with the rest of the plot! Prescott is brainstorming ideas for her next big fashion trend and explodes into “Think Pink!” which becomes a montage of ads and models and pink pink pink pink pink! It’s a wonderfully bright kick-off to the movie, but when it’s over, on to the next issue, forget that pink shit, back to your regularly scheduled story arc.
Suck it, Aerosmith!
Later, after Jo gets that forced kiss and instantly craves Dick, she wonders if these tingly feelings are brand new or if she’s always wanted a dude, which she ponders in “How Long Has This Been Going On?” It’s very slow and introspective and mostly features Jo wandering around the dramatically lit bookshop in a fun hat.
As Sartre was fond of doing.
I give the titular “Funny Face” points for being the only musical number I’ve ever seen in a darkroom. Dick repeatedly tells Jo that she has a
fucked-up unique face, but he loves it. And then they have a lovely dance while he develops her picture, aww.
“F-stop? More like I wanna F-nonstop.”
And now, a song for the editing geeks (hands up, I’m one of you). “Bonjour, Paris!” is a delightful tune featuring Jo, Dick, and Maggie splitting up to explore the City of Love, each singing their sightseeing goals along the way. Despite being far apart, they come together through fantastic cuts and the occasional three-way split screen.
Wait, is this the story of a man named Brady?
Oh, and then there’s a jazz instrumental while Jo goes wild with some crazy existential dance. The DVD menu tells me it’s called “Basal Metabolism,” it’s equal parts beautiful and silly, and I’m embarrassed to report that I was previously familiar with it because of a Gap ad.
It’s iconic… enough to be exploited by corporations.
Oh, yeah, and Dick sings some song called “Let’s Kiss and Make Up” in a tree, which he follows by dancing his way through an imaginary bullfight. Yes, nerds, you too can woo Audrey Hepburn with your mad improv skills.
“From the audience, I need a celebrity and a kind of fruit.”
Hey, you know how this column’s whole deal is that I’m not really a musical guy? Here’s a prime example: there’s a number called “He Loves and She Loves” which I can barely remember the song or the dance, but the long uninterrupted take where Jo and Dick ride a raft from one side of a river to the other is burned into my mind forever, and I applauded when they pulled it off.
Not quite a Spielberg Oner, but still, damn.
Jo and Maggie share a sweet duet and cute dance called “On How to be Lovely” in which Jo is prepped to show the women of the world how to be charming. It basically consists of forcing yourself to be happy and never dwelling on anything serious or important.
Eventually Dick and Maggie have to sneak into a snooty club and must prove their worth by performing a song, which they do. It’s called “Clap Yo’ Hands,” it’s apparently from a different musical, and there’s lot of fun dancing and also I’m not gonna try to overthink their accents too much.
Let’s move on.
Our last tune is “‘S Wonderful” because it takes too damn long to say, “It’s wonderful.” ‘S mostly just Jo and Dick exchanging different ways to say how spending time together is pleasant without ever using the word “it.”
I THINK THIS LINE’S MOSTLY FILLER:
Fuck this terrible rhyme from “Funny Face” and all the lusting after a perpetually young boy it implies…
“You’ve got all the qualities of Peter Pan,
I’d go far before I’d find a sweeter pan…”
Funny Face is a fine film. Yeah, parts of the plot will make you cringe, but Audrey Hepburn is a lovable sweetheart, Kay Thompson is a hilarious grouch, and Fred Astaire is in it. They’re all spectacular singers and dancers with perfectly nice songwriting back-up from George and Ira Gershwin. And, again, there’s a long take with a raft! Check it out!
The Wiz (1978)