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Funny Face’ Captures the Romance of France and the Hearts of the Audience

Observer Scene | Friday, October 12, 2007

“Funny Face” is as much a love story between Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn’s characters as it is a love story between the camera, fashion and Paris.The musical, directed by the great Stanley Donen, tells the story of Jo Stockton (Hepburn), a young bookshop girl discovered for her peculiar face by “Quality” magazine photographer Dick Avery (Astaire). After Dick convinces editor Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) that Jo is the perfect choice for the new face of “Quality,” all involved are whisked away to Paris to unveil a new fashion line and introduce Jo to the world press.It is difficult to pinpoint the star in “Funny Face.” Hepburn and Astaire are obvious choices, but always at the forefront of the film are the City of Light and the fashions of Hepburn’s favorite designer and friend, Hubert de Givenchy. The camera displays Paris and fashion with such adoration that it is no wonder why even today, fashion designers consider Paris the center of the fashion world and Givenchy’s designs in “Funny Face” a milestone in 20th century fashion.Despite the fundamental presence of Paris and fashion, Hepburn and Astaire are the true, irresistible appeal of the film. “Funny Face” marks the first and only time the pair would star in a movie together, but their combined performance is unforgettable and magical.The collaboration almost didn’t happen. Their schedules failed to match up, but when Astaire heard that Hepburn specifically requested to star with him in the musical, he decided to wait for her.”She asked for me, and I was ready,” he said at the time. “This could be the last and only opportunity I’d have to work with the great and lovely Audrey and I was not missing it. Period.”The performances from both of the two Hollywood legends are exceptional, yet much credit is due to Hepburn, who isn’t the typical musical star. Although she had formal dance training in her youth, she never possessed the same skill as other Astaire partners, like Ginger Rogers and Leslie Caron. But Hepburn’s natural grace and passion for dance made her an easy partner for Astaire, and the two dance seamlessly together throughout the film.Unlike in her most famous musical, “My Fair Lady,” Hepburn was allowed to do her own singing in “Funny Face.” Her voice lacks the vocal strength and quality of co-stars Astaire and Thompson, but what she lacks in singing ability, she makes up for in pure emotion. Hepburn infuses her songs with feeling, something she mastered with “Moon River” in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”While Hepburn’s star shines bright in “Funny Face,” Astaire’s is just as brilliant. The hoofer once again displays his creative talent as Dick sings and dances his way to Jo’s heart. In the number “Let’s Kiss and Make Up,” Astaire demonstrates his penchant for incorporating props of all sorts into his routines. Dick taunts an imaginary bull with his red-lined raincoat and subdues it with his pointy umbrella. It’s an idea that came to Astaire when he showed up to his studio and began dancing in front of a mirror with his coat still on.Unfortunately, the 50th anniversary edition of “Funny Face” doesn’t have a special DVD commentary. It does contain insightful featurettes such as “The Fashion Designer and His Muse,” which explores the relationship between Hepburn and Givenchy, and “Parisian Dreams,” which describes the influence of the city of Paris on the film. However, there must be someone who could have provided an expert’s opinion on “Funny Face,” and the absence of that commentary is a shortcoming on this anniversary edition.Despite any shortcomings among the special features, the film itself does not disappoint. Donen and company weave together the stars, the music and dancing, Paris and fashion in such a way as to create a finished product that still has an effect on musical fans and fashion designers today. Hepburn and Astaire would certainly be enough to carry a film themselves, but the added elements of Paris and fashion not only facilitate the narrative, but they intensify the romance between the two main characters and ultimately the romance between the film and the audience.