Not rated? I'm seriously always in the mindset that there's some rating during the technicolor era. I know that's not true. I actually know a lot about the MPAA, but it is odd that there isn't some kind of rating on IMDb for this one. I feel like it is popular enough to be retroactively rated something. But that's all beside the point. The movie is fairly tame. The most uncomfortable thing in the movie is the age disparity between Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. I feel like she dealt with that a lot. Also, the movie has a general anti-intellectual vibe to it.
DIRECTOR: Stanley Donen
Okay, I actually really like Funny Face. It's right in that sweet spot of musicals for me. It has to much going for it and it makes me feel good to watch it. But all that being said, it is way easier to comment on the problematic than it is to accept that this is the fun movie that I fall in love with every time I watch it. It also is easier to comment on the datedness of things than it is to gush over the movie.
In terms of things to love, there's so much. We're looking at a Stanley Donen musical. This is the primetime of Technicolor in Vistavision. Everything in this sweet spot in movie history just looks positively gorgeous. There's a cinematic element to movies, especially musicals, that we haven't seen before. If you asked me what actors I would want in a musical, I would say Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. Me trying to explain what makes Audrey Hepburn so special is just an exercise in futility. The majority of American culture adores Hepburn. (I can't support that with a lick of data, but this feels something that is fundamentally part of the human spirit.) Similarly, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly make a good musical. I don't usually care about the stories in a lot of musicals. I really care about the complexity of dance. Fred Astaire dancing is like watching a stunt happening that you know is real. There's no wires. There's no faking. And there are a bunch of people doing this really complex stunt at the same time. Entire sections of the movie are devoted to gorgeous dancing and I adore it. If you haven't seen Funny Face, before reading on, please do. I don't want you to be tainted by the uncomfortable realities I'm about to be talking about.
Because Funny Face is a really weirdly toned movie. It's bubblegum fun that really craps on everything that you should hold true. If I am going to be as blunt as I can possibly be, Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire should not play lovers. My wife tends not to like movies because one person isn't pretty enough. She lets Funny Face slide because she likes both actors separately. But Audrey Hepburn should be playing Fred Astaire's daughter. Astaire is up there in age by this point in his career. He's not really missing a beat when it comes to dance. (You know, the thing that he's famous for?) But there is absolutely no chemistry and I feel like Audrey Hepburn, not Jo Stockton, is really uncomfortable with this matchup. She's doing a fine job faking it. If you pretend that Astaire is even in the ballpark of Hepburn age wise, there's something cute in a Dharma & Greg sense about them. But that age difference is really hard to get past. Like, it's the first thing I think of when I think of Funny Face. Okay, the second thing. The first thing is that Gap commercial from a few years back.
But like My Fair Lady, the movie knows what is the morally right thing to happen in this movie and actively ignores it. It's another Audrey Hepburn musical about settling for the guy who makes you question your good nature. My Fair Lady might be the worse offender, but the movie presents Jo as the morally good character in the beginning. Jo is happy in her life in a bookstore. She reads books that challenge her and finds fashion to be fundamentally against her morals. I agree that perhaps Jo is a bit elitist to be considered a completely moral character, above the needs of the common man. But her life is completely ruined by the fashion magazine that co-opts the bookstore and takes advantage of Jo's good nature. Fred Astaire's Dick Avery comes across as a reasonable character only juxtaposed against the bull-in-a-china-shop attitude of the rest of the fashion magazine crew. He offers to help clean up, but not to stop the damage from happening in the first place. He has a bit of a conscience because he acknowledges the damage that was caused, but is a bad guy because he allows it to happen.
He actually might be more morally culpable than the rest of the employees of the magazine. The other employees are oblivious to the damage they are bringing into Jo's life. Dick is the boss of this little venture and he simply allows it to happen. I hate to make this parallel to Astaire's age, because I just age shamed the crap out of him, but he is the parent bringing a bunch of children to wreck someone's house and then offers to pick up a thing or two once the house is destroyed. The other people are incapable of recognizing the morally questionable act being committed, while Avery is aware of a sin and allows it to happen. This also makes the fact that Avery kisses her so quickly in their relationship all the more problematic. He has this expectation that he is deserving of this affection because he did the bare minimum to help Jo in her problem. Yet all the while, Avery is actually the cause of her misery. He is the one who takes over the bookstore. He is the one who comes up with a pretense to bring Jo in for an audition. Jo is being kidnapped practically by the fashion magazine because he has a crush on her. That's a wildly problematic narrative.
The role of the fashion magazine is the call to temptation. Part of it is for Jo to expand her horizons. The irony of the character is that she's trying to better herself in the quest for knowledge that she misses out on bettering herself by broadening her tastes. I get that. I actually love this argument. (Don't just be one thing.) But the movie then takes a hard turn into anti-intellectualism. Through her horrible treatment in the world of fashion, she discovers that her heroes are all shams and disgusting. There's a song and dance with Fred Astaire and Kay Thompson where they dress up as beatniks. It points out all of the absurdities of the youth movement in their dance and belittles any chance for nuanced understanding within a culture. It's not the first story to do this and it won't be the last. But Funny Face really goes out of its way to point out how the old think that the young are dumb. Remember, the older generation in this story are the ones who completely dismantle Jo's bookstore and lie to her throughout the story. The fashion magazine just slowly shifts the perspective from the bad guys to the good guys. It all comes from forgetting what came before. That song, coupled with the knowledge that intellectuals are all fools, really paints the portrait of an intolerant generation that laughs at, not with, society.
The only thing that actually saves the youth from complete abandon is that Jo is a fundamentally good person. That's what Dick Avery falls in love with, besides the fact that Audrey Hepburn is hot. Dick Avery's world is full of the vapid, people who never study art and culture. Yet, Jo has to be limited from her exposure to that because it's silly. The movie really takes this elitist stance that the higher ups of popular culture are the only ones worth listening to. The models are nitwits; the educated are sex-fiends. Well, that's not much of a message. What are we to really take from it? I wish it was a call to moderation of tempers, but it never really spells that out either.
Really, the age gap between Hepburn and Astaire might be an apt metaphor for the lack of chemistry. These actors shouldn't really be paired off together, so neither should the characters. Dick Avery and Jo Stockton have very little in common. Dick slightly likes art. Jo acknowledges that Dick is polite from time to time. It's "Breakfast at Tiffany's", the song not the movie. That isn't enough to make a solid relationship. Instead, we have to be seduced by the brilliant direction of Stanley Donen, who knows how to make such a pretty movie that the moment-to-moment takes a second place to pretty colors and great dancing. I still like Funny Face. It's still probably one of my favorite musicals. But it also really falls apart if you put any weight on it at all.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.