I hate to admit that it was a pop song that made me fall in love with Audrey Hepburn. It was the spring of 1996 and Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was all over the radio. One dull afternoon in the life of a college student, a friend of mine admitted that she had actually never seen the film. I sheepishly admitted the same, and we went straight out and rented it. I immediately fell madly in love with the style, class, and beauty that is Audrey Hepburn. In the many years following, I have done my best to nurture that one-sided love, and try to watch any film with Ms. Hepburn when I get the chance. Recently I sat down and watched Audrey and Fred Astaire in Funny Face.
It is a film that is notable for being a musical in which Audrey actually sings. A feat she was famously not able to duplicate in My Fair Lady (1964). It is a soft, kind sort of voice a simple boy could fall in love with, but one can see why Mr. Cukor opted for another one to sing for Eliza Doolittle.
The Gershwins have once again created some wonderful songs. Mixed with exuberance, humor, and a sweetness that no other songwriter has ever matched, George and Ira created some of the world’s greatest songs. The stand out here is the simple sweet closer, “S’Wonderful,” but “How long has this been going on?” and the title number are just lovely. Ira’s silly, unbelievable rhymes are in full order here as well. In “Bonjour Paris” he manages to rhyme the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre with Montmartre.
Being not only an Audrey Hepburn picture, but also starring Fred Astaire, there are plenty of dance routines. Only one number is what I would consider exceptional and that is a number between Hepburn and Astaire while photographing a wedding scene outside a lovely French church. The setting is beautiful (though shot in soft lighting for some reason) and the routine flows beautifully and with much charm.
The plot as it is, centers around Hepburn playing a bookish, intellectual named Jo Stockton, and a women’s magazine photographer, Dick Avery (Astaire) trying to convince Stockton to pose for him. She agrees only as a ruse to go to Paris and meet the inventor of a new philosophy, empathicalism. Of course, they fall in love. There is nothing really new or all that interesting in the story, but it is set in Paris which gives it some very beautiful backgrounds in which to tell it.
Call me a heretic, but I’ve never been much of a fan of Fred Astaire. He has a fine singing voice, and his dancing is always excellent, but there is something about him as an actor and leading man that rubs me the wrong way. He does a decent job here, but ask me who I’d prefer to see play opposite Audrey and I’d choose Bogart, Cooper, Peck, or Grant any day of the week over Astaire. (Editors Note: I no longer share this opinion with my younger self, I love Fred Astaire (Mat, March 2023).
Funny Face is a fun, harmless musical. The Gershwin tunes are a pleasure, the story is…well, fodder for the songs and dance numbers, but fair enough for what it is. But the real reason to watch the picture is the one, Audrey Hepburn. While I am embarrassed that it took a silly pop song for me to see the light around that graceful woman, I am forever grateful for that three minutes of bubblegum, for it gave me the joy that is Audrey.