For the first not-quite-half of Stanley Donen's Funny Face we are in the midst of a stylish, high-fashion fairy tale, populated by the likes of Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn and Kay Thompson, and transported along by some fine George and Ira Gershwin songs. For the second half, some of the effervescence loses its fizz...all that boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-girl-back stuff, combined with some unfunny, dated riffs on beatniks and Hollywood's version of Sartre. Still, Funny Face has much in its favor, and to my way of thinking is the best of the Astaire movies he made following The Band Wagon.
Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson), relentless force of nature and editor of the high fashion magazine Quality, is determined to find a new look. Her top fashion photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) thinks he's found just the person, a mousy little bookseller they encountered during a fashion shoot in Greenwich Village. But Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn) is having none of it. Jo is a devotee of empathecalism, thinks fashion is ridiculous and wants nothing more than to read books, dress sensibly and go to Paris to meet her guru. It's not long before they're all in Paris...Maggie with her expansive ideas for the magazine with Jo as the new woman, Jo reluctantly agreeing to model so she can get to Paris, and Dick photographing Jo in some stunning creations (designed for Hepburn by Givenchy). After some songs, some dances, some arguments and some kisses, a reasonably believable Autumn/Spring romance between Astaire and Hepburn sends them dancing into the countryside to S'Wonderful. We exit smiling.
Funny Face glows with style. The Avery character was based on high-fashion photographer Richard Avedon (who also is noted for serious photo collections). Avedon was a consultant on the movie, and his sense of color and composition, and how to present high fashion permeates the place. Style was also one of Astaire's noted gifts, as it was with Kay Thompson. And Hepburn isn't far behind. The three of them give a fine gloss to a simple story. Their skills as performers and personalities make the musical numbers, for the most part, special. Among the high points:
--Think Pink, a specialty number for Thompson by Roger Edens and Leonard Gershe. It's bright and funny, and introduces us to Maggie Prescott, the magazine and the world of high fashion. It sets the tone of the movie.
--How Long Has This Been Going On is sung without ornamentation by Hepburn. She's a competent singer.
--Funny Face, perhaps the highlight of the movie. Even though we've had to wait almost 30 minutes to get to Astaire doing his stuff, it's worth it. Astaire sings to Hepburn in a darkroom while he takes her picture, blows it up and develops it. Hepburn thinks her face is "funny;" Astaire thinks it's extraordinary.
"I love your funny face,
Your sunny, funny face.
For you're a cutie
With more than beautie.
You've got a lot of
You fill the air with smiles
For miles and miles and miles.
Though you're no Mona Lisa,
For worlds I'd not replace
Your sunny, funny face."
After we see the print, a tight, soft close-up of her features, we know Astaire's right. The song and its delivery has everything we expect of Astaire and includes a nice, not-too-demanding dance with Hepburn that's light and graceful.
--Lets Kiss and Make Up. This clever Gershwin song sung by Astaire to Hepburn moves into an extended dance routine where he once again demonstrates he can make excellent dance partners of inanimate objects, in this case his umbrella and his topcoat.
--He Loves and She Loves. A sweet and graceful declaration of love sung by Astaire and danced by the two of them outside a country church. It's filmed with a soft focus which some may appreciate and others find irritating.
The only real stinker is a humorless send-up of beatniks sung and danced by Astaire and Thompson to the Gershwin's Clap Yo' Hands. The routine probably was dated when it was filmed.
And even if you don't much care for high fashion (I'm one of those) and even if your heart doesn't beat all that faster for Audrey Hepburn (mine doesn't skip too many beats), the combination of Hepburn's face, Givenchy's gowns and Avedon's photography are in a different kind of reality. Hepburn taking a pose in a green silk gown with her hair pulled back and that neck as long and graceful as a swan's is stunning. Hepburn in a red gown with a long red scarf flowing behind her as she lightly runs down the stone steps in the Louvre with the Winged Victory of Samothrace framing her descent is unforgettable.
And here's to Kay Thompson, one of the most vivid and stylish of creatures. She only made two or three movies but had a long career as vocal arranger, voice coach, singer, nightclub entertainer, songwriter and author (all those books about Eloise and the Plaza). She was a great and true friend of Judy Garland's and was Liza Minnelli's godmother. In Thompson's last years when she was frail and ill, Minnelli moved her into Minnelli's New York apartment and oversaw her care until Thompson died.
The DVD transfer looks good. There are no extras to speak of, just a photo gallery, a movie trailer and a puff-piece featurette called Paramount in the 1950's, largely a collection of brief snips from Paramount movies.