Film Title: Funny Face
Director: Stanley Donen
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire
Running Time: 103 min
It’s unfair to expect a film released nearly 60 years ago to conform to contemporary standards of equality. But even set against the rife misogyny of 1950s America, Funny Face rankled with reviewers on its initial run: “It is not amiable parody and it is not telling satire,” noted 1957 review in the Times . “It has its roots in the ill-based instinct to jeer, and its jeers are offensive.”
An unwearable creation from director Stanley Donen (Singin’ in the Rain), this is a musical that axes almost all of Ira and George Gershwin’s songs from the original 1927 Broadway show in favour of bongos.
In the same muddled spirit, Leonard Gershe’s screenplay depicts the fashion industry as featherheaded nonsense. Yet the production drafts in photographer Richard Avedon and big gun designers Edith Head and Hubert de Givenchy. The message sounds clear: fashion is stupid but it’s just stupid enough for girls.
Thus we first encounter Audrey Hepburn’s Jo in a Greenwich Village bookstore, where she works as a clerk, uses big words and wears dreary greys and blacks. This won’t do; it won’t do at all.
Enter a fashion magazine editor (Kay Thompson) and superstar photographer (Fred Astaire), two rag trade aristos on the hunt for a new “intellectual” look. Jo resists, dismissing fashion as “chichi . . . an unrealistic approach to self-impressions as well as economics”. Sounds like somebody needs a makeover and a boyfriend.
Sure enough, despite initial protestations, the prospect of visiting Paris intrigues the former beatnik, as that city is home to her idol, a famous philosopher and professor. Sadly, inevitably, all those pretty frocks and runways soon work to empty Jo’s head of all philosophical content.
In the ugly lux world of Funny Face , women exist according to a grim dichotomy: they have looks or books, boyfriends or intellect, glasses or passes. Both? Ha! You some kind of crazy bohemian? Intellectualism, even for chaps, is “unmasked” as a hollow pose; for ladies, it’s a one-way ticket to Spinsterville.
Astaire’s dancing and Audrey’s charm sweeten a bitter pill. But unearthing this vicious artefact is not unlike exhibiting a medieval chastity belt.