Funny Face

Funny Face, 1957, Paramount Pictures. Starring Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Kay Thompson. Directed by Stanley Donen. Music and Lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. Technicolor, 103 minutes.

Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) is a fashion magazine editor surrounded by a bevy of young women anxious to cater to her every whim. She looking for the next big fashion sensation, one that is at the same time beautiful and intellectual, and finds herself brainstorming with her top photographer, Dick Avery (Fred Astaire), for the proper venue for such a look. They strike upon the idea of a bookstore, and set out to find one that is suitable.

Soon enough they find such a store, one that is “perfect” for their photo shoot, except for one thing, clerk Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn), who naturally vehemently opposes the invasion. But an invasion it is, and Jo doesn’t stand a chance against the strength and will of Maggie Prescott. In fact, Maggie includes her in part of the photo shoot.

After Maggie and her minions have left the store, Dick stays behind to help clean up the vast mess they’ve made. It’s only later, in the darkroom, that he sees the strong potential Jo has as the right kind of model for Maggie’s vision. Maggie lures Jo to her offices by purchasing a large number of books, and once Jo is there, pounces on her with her ideas for transformation.

Jo runs from her office and ends up hiding in the darkroom from the crowd chasing her. There, she meets up once again with Dick, who talks to her about a photo shoot in Paris. Jo dreams of visiting Paris to meet up with the philosopher Émile Flostre (Michel Auclair), and sees modeling as a way to get there. She turns around and returns to Maggie’s office, ready to agree to the photo shoot. 

Love has a strange way of taking over when one is in Paris, and Jo soon finds herself falling for Dick. That is, until she meets Professor Flostre, who is younger and handsomer than she imagined. But Dick isn’t ready to give her up.

Kay Thompson, Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn explore Paris and the Eiffel Tower

Kay Thompson, Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn

Hepburn wasn’t known as a singer or dancer, and she admitted her own shortcomings in a later interview. “I felt I didn’t sing well enough, or dance well enough, but the idea of working with Fred Astaire clinched it for me,” she said. Astaire patiently worked with her with his usual perfectionism, and the results are charming. Unlike her later performance in My Fair Lady, Hepburn sang her own songs in Funny Face. However, it took the release of My Fair Lady in 1964 to make Funny Face a box office success. Initially disliked by fans and reviewers alike, the film then achieved a substantial following. 

Richard Avedon, whose career inspired the original play Funny Face was based on, was hired as a “special visual consultant” for the film. He created the opening titles, including the famous photograph of Hepburn in which only her facial features—eyes, eyebrows, nose and mouth—are visible, as well as a five-minute fashion montage of Hepburn, the “Think Pink” sequence and the darkroom scenes.

Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, Kay Thompson argue about Fred and Kay's plan for a photo shoot in Audrey's bookstore

Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, Kay Thompson

Funny Face was nominated for four Academy Awards, including original screenplay, cinematography, art direction and costume design, but won none.

This is an appealing musical, although a trifle long. Both Hepburn and Astaire are well suited for their roles, and while there is a substantial age difference between the two, it isn’t troublesome. Shot almost entirely in Paris, it showcases the timeless charms of that city well. A film well worth the watch for classic movie fans.