All musicals exist in a world of fantasy, but maybe none more so than Stanley Donen’s 1957 film Funny Face. With no flying monkeys, talking killer plants, or even an extravagant Broadway fantasy (as seen in Donen’s crowning achievement Singin’ in the Rain), Funny Face surpasses them all in implausibility with the implication that there is anything “funny” about Audrey Hepburn’s face. Hepburn plays a shy but intellectual bookstore employee, whose whole world turns upside down when a photographer (played by Fred Astaire) points out the one thing that everyone else in the film seems to be blind to – the crazy notion that Audrey Hepburn could be a model!
Few plots have made less sense, but fortunately the film has enough charm and style to offer, that it’s easy to overlook such a ludicrous scenario. However, equally ridiculous is the romance between Astaire and Hepburn. Most films would fail with such an utter lack of chemistry (and with its creepy connotations, considering the thirty year age difference), but most films don’t have Hepburn and Astaire singing and dancing all throughout Paris, either.
Where the film really shines, though, is in Donen’s superb direction. He gracefully moves the camera around the gorgeous sets and refrains from using cuts to allow his actors show off their craft. The musical numbers are lively, exuberant, and downright charming. The titular “Funny Face” performance by Astaire is a standout, as he dances under the lights of a photo lab, drenched in the warm red hues. “Bonjour Paris!” finds the film at its most playful, as our leads arrive in the City of Love and can’t help but actually sing to the city itself. Hepburn does all her own singing (unlike her most notable musical hit in My Fair Lady, where Marni Nixon dubbed her vocals), which is not always on-key, but never not adorable. She does get to impress in a scene where she breaks out into an impromptu beatnik dance in the middle of a French café because why not?
Funny Face is a prime example of style over substance, but who needs substance when the style is so intoxicating? Hepburn, Astaire, and Donen work together to create a musical that may be utterly meaningless, but ends up all the more enjoyable because of it. You can check out this underrated Hepburn classic here.