Review: ‘Funny Face’
Paramount Pictures’ Centennial Collection chugs along, mining the 1950s and Audrey Hepburn again with the release on Tuesday of Funny Face. The musical, with Fred Astaire and Kay Thompson, unlike the earlier offerings in the series, has not aged well despite the loving restoration of the visuals.
Pop culture in the 1950s certainly centered on glamorous celebrities like Hepburn and the films were experimenting with visual techniques to combat the rise of television habits but sometimes their subjects were treated outlandishly.
Maggie Prescott (Thompson) is the force of nature that edits [[[Glamour]]], er, [[[Mode]]], er, [[[Quality]]] magazine. The magazine wants to shoot on location, to lend a patina of intellectual sheen to the usually vapid model who seems more interesting in exaggerated poses than anything natural. She and top fashion photographer Dick Avery (Astaire) spontaneously decide on a “sinister” looking bookstore in Greenwich Village, hail a few cabs, and go in search. They find a dark, dusty shop with a young bookseller, Jo Stockton (Hepburn) as the sole occupant. They storm in, take over the joint and include her in one picture then lock her out of the store since she was objecting to their disruption of the place.
Later, Avery latches on to the notion that she could be the fresh face a new campaign could be built around. He convinces her that by agreeing to model, she could be taken to Paris where she could be exposed to the great philosophical thinkers, including Prof. Emile Flostre (Michel Auclaire), who influenced the naïve girl. She accepts and is whisked to Paris where she at first indulges her intellect then gives in to her beauty. The rest of the film chronicles her struggle to find herself as she straddles two worlds, neither very well.
Adapted from the 1927 stage musical, the update retained but four songs, two of which are memorable standards. The rest are entirely forgettable including the signature opener, “Think Pink”.
As a story, it mocks the Beat Generation on two continents and treats Flostre as a great thinker, but his mind appears to be on one subject which is getting in to Hepburn’s pants. The rest of the script is breathless but you keep stopping to wonder about the absurdity of booking everyone into separate hotels or no one giving Stockton a schedule so she would know what was expected from her. Also, Stockton seems to suddenly give up on her interest in philosophy in favor of being a famous model when she could do both, it never had to be an either/or situation.
It might be satire, it might be early pop art, but it really is a dated offering with an aging Astaire and the far younger Hepburn lacking serious chemistry. Her dance training comes in handy which works better solo than when paired with Astaire. She does her own singing which is passable for this film. Thompson, making a rare appearance on screen. steals her scenes as the impossible editor who actually learns a few things along the way.
The film has been on disc previously, most recently two years ago in 50th anniversary edition but since then, the picture has been substantially improved. The sound is just as fine as it was then but both are a far cry better than the 1999 original DVD release.
The second disc contains all the expected extras including the now repetitive Paramount in the 1950s trailer. Carrying over from the last DVD are things like the still gallery and theatrical trailer plus “The Fashion Designer and His Muse”, a study of Hepburn and designer Hubert de Givenchy; and “Parisian Dreams” a look at location filming.
New additions are most welcome, including the 26 minute look at the life of Thompson, known today for her literary creation, Eloise, but was quite the influential musical talent. It’s a fascinating look at an amazing woman. Given the film’s focus on fashion, we get an 18 minute look at “Fashion Photographers Exposed”, as a modern day photographer walks us through recreating the Hepburn look using modern techniques. This is more filler than anything else.
The film was shot in VistaVision, the enlarged filming process that Paramount hoped would keep people coming to the theaters. The process was time consuming, vexing to directors (especially Alfred Hitchcock), and ultimately too costly for theater owners to adopt. The process looked great in some films, less so in others, and ultimately vanished until Richard Edlund revived it to use in crafting the multi-plane special effects required by Star Wars.
If you love Hepburn or Astaire, are a completist, or a film fanatic, this is for you and certainly worth upgrading for.