Funny Face (1957)
“Presented in a Real New Dimension in Motion Picture Entertainment.”
Director: Stanley Donen
Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Kay Thompson
Synopsis: An impromptu fashion shoot at a book store brings about a new fashion model discovery in the shop clerk.
The most glaring problem with Stanley Donen’s well-received musical romance Funny Face is the disparity in the ages of its leading players. Fred Astaire was 58 when the film was made, and was showing his age in his face at least, even though he still possessed the youthful energy of a man in his twenties. His co-star, the elfin Audrey Hepburn, was just 28 — 30 years younger than Astaire. Add to this the fact that Hepburn was a beauty while Astaire, even in his prime, was never particularly good looking, and the possibility of her falling for him is inconceivable. Perhaps a compelling storyline might go some way to disguising this poor choice of casting, but Funny Face barely has a plot. Seriously, if you excised all of the musical numbers so that all remained was the movie’s plot, you’d be left with a movie that runs no more than six or seven minutes.
Astaire plays fashion photographer Dick Avery (a character based on Richard Avedon, who served as the film’s visual consultant), who works for Quality magazine, which is run by the ferocious Maggie Prescott (a rare film role for Kay Thompson). When a photo shoot with top model Marion (real-life model Dovima) goes badly, Avery and Presscott decide to take to the streets for inspiration, and end up at a bookshop run by the intellectual Jo Stockton (Hepburn), who doesn’t take kindly to having her shop overrun by creative types but is powerless to prevent them from taking over. She’s placated by Avery after everyone else has left, particularly when he plants a kiss on her lips (you get the impression young Jo has lived a very sheltered life if a kiss from an old coot like Avery can send her into a romantic swoon). Avery decides that Jo is to be the next face of Quality magazine, and once he has persuaded Prescott, the three of them embark on a trip to Paris for a glamorous photo-shoot.
If you’re not a fan of musicals, Funny Face isn’t going to convert you, that’s for sure. It opens brightly, with slick opening credits by Avedon, but the sheer weight of the musical numbers — seriously, it’s almost wall-to-wall — at the expense of any plot means only the most ardent fans of Astaire and Hepburn will be entertained. As it is, Astaire only performs one dance number as I recall, which becomes an interpretation of a bullfight which, considering the film takes place in Paris, is a curious choice. It’s a good routine, though, and it’s just a shame that Funny Face doesn’t have a few more moments like this.
(Reviewed 7th December 2013)