Posted in: Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on January 14th, 2009
It’s hard being the bad guy, but sometimes you just don’t like a film that seemingly everyone else does. Such is the case for me with Funny Face, the classic Audrey Hepburn-Fred Astaire teaming that sees a bookish young lady go from the obscurity of her lonely library to the glitzy Paris lights as a high-profile fashion model. A little bit Cinderella and a whole lot of singing-and-dancing, Funny Face fails to engage with characters and story, relying solely on its lavish spectacle to do the trick. For legions of fans, it worked. For me, it didn’t. But like comedy, it’s all subjective, and if you’re in to fancy costumes, skilled choreography, arguably catchy music numbers, and healthy doses of nostalgia, then this one’s a no-brainer. But if story and deeply written characters are your things, sorry they don’t live here.
Astaire and Hepburn are a good pairing, and they work well together for each song-and-dance piece, but their love story gets very little chance to shine in between, and their normally solid acting abilities are buried in a heap of lifeless Broadway mini-productions that result, ultimately, in a showcase for all the wrong skills. When I watch a movie, I’ve got to be at the very least emotionally invested. If a film can engage my intelligence as well, that’s icing on the cake. Funny Face did neither. And as a fan of Ms. Hepburn’s work in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, believe me: no one’s more disappointed at that statement than me. The best thing about it is the overpowering, show-stealing performance of Kay Thompson as pushy magazine editor Maggie Preston. She dominates the camera whenever it’s on her. It’s just too bad our stars didn’t get that same chance to shine.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is enhanced by not only a fine transfer, but also striking source visuals. One complaint – and probably my only complaint – is that reds tend to overdo it, bleeding out into the rest of the frame. It becomes a distraction in two key scenes – the darkroom and Hepburn’s solo bar dance. Other than that, Funny Face is a colorful picture that works better as a painting than it does as storytelling.
Like the Breakfast at Tiffany’s release, Funny Face comes armed with four strong audio tracks – three mono featuring English, Spanish, and French – and 5.1 English that seems custom-made for the flurry of songs the film has to offer. Dancing and music dominate the soundtrack. Dialog levels are mellow, but passable. One of the more musical musicals I’ve seen, it makes use of sound over script, and fans of the genre will be pleased.
Kay Thompson: Think Pink! – A nice tribute to an underrated writer and actress, Kay Thompson plays the bossy Maggie Prescott in Funny Face, and is probably the most powerful screen presence in the entire production. The 26-minute featurette breezes through her entire career, and is sure to please fans of this forgotten entertainer.
This Is Vistavision – This 24-minute featurette introduces viewers to the birth of widescreen, in particular a form called “Vistavision.” Part modern interviews, part newsreel footage, this addition is sure to please tech-heads.
Fashion Photographers Exposed – Running at around 18 minutes, this featurette talks to modern photographers about the difference between “taking pictures” and “the perfect shot.” Fascinating here is a modern Funny Face-inspired photo shoot that turns out quite well.
The Fashion Designer and His Muse – At 8 minutes, this is one of the shortest features in the package, but it does a fine job of examining the relationship between long-time collaborator and fashion designer Hubert Givenchy and Hepburn.
Parisian Dreams – Another 8-minute featurette, this plays like a mini-infomercial for the Paris Board of Tourism. Nothing particularly striking about it, except to say that it highlights the high points of a breathtaking city.
Paramount in the ‘50s – A tad over 9 minutes, this brief history lesson reviews some of the Studio’s best, most beloved films of the 1950s – and yes, that includes Funny Face.
Rounding out the bonus materials are the original theatrical trailer, three photo galleries, and a fold-out full-color insert with additional text information and photographs.
Funny Face is a grating film if you aren’t in to musicals. For me, it didn’t have the sense of fun or charm of Chicago or even the Albert Finney-starring Scrooge, but I’m a tough crowd to please when it comes to this genre. It can be done. Funny Face just failed to do it. And I’m sure the surviving cast and crew will lose plenty of sleep over this revelation. Fans of the film, however, will not, because this is a solid release with highest-percentile A/V and an extra disc full of gratifying extras.