Source: Funny Face. Directed by Stanley Donen. Performed by Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. Accessed December 2, 2016.
In 1957, Audrey Hepburn stepped once again into the Hollywood spotlight in the film Funny Face. Her character, Jo Stockton, is a quiet bookstore worker who get ropes into being the face of a campaign for Unique Magazine (what we today might call a Cover Girl). As part of her work, Jo flies off to Paris to model a new collection and to be photographed by Dick Avery, played by Fred Astaire.
Not surprisingly, this movie has lots of commentary on how women are portrayed in media and how they should be perceived and act in real life. While working in Paris, Jo is instructed that since she will be the new global face of women, she must look happy and lovely. There is the underlying argument that women’s bodies are public goods made for consumption, therefore they must be happy and lovely all the time. We see this today as modern feminists criticize the ubiquitous command from men to smile all the time.
Physical appearance is emphasized throughout the film; even though Jo was chosen because she has an unusual and interesting face, there is still the assumption that all women want to be considered beautiful, whether in a conventional or unique sense. That is one of the highest concerns of women: to appear beautiful. This desire trumps any sort of internal qualities, especially intelligence. At the beginning of the film, Audrey Hepburn’s character was criticized and almost passed over for the job because she thought too much and spoke too much; her intellect was seen as a hindrance. Later on, Miss Prescott, the magazine’s editor, made the claim that women can be beautiful as well as intellectual. The fact that she had to audibly make that point shows how much beauty was valued over intellect.
In addition to how women should be seen, there are also messages about how women should behave. When Jo and meets Mr. Avery for the first time, he suddenly kisses her in the middle of their conversation. While Jo is quite shocked, Mr. Avery just assumed that she wanted to be kissed. Here we see the idea that women should be open to any sort of advances made on them, and that they are meant to be sought while men are meant to seek. After this incident, Jo sings a song in which she explains that she was taught to hide her inner feelings. This idea of passionless women has been seen several times throughout history, and was still promoted during the 1950s. Later on, when Jo is speaking with Miss Prescott about being the new face of Unique Magazine, her initial answer of “no, thank you” is completely ignored, and she is talked over while Miss Prescott makes plans and gives her employees instruction on what to do with Jo’s hair, eyebrows, and face. This shows that women are not expected to be disagreeable or say “no,” and that even if they do, they can be talked over until they comply. In another scene with Jo and Mr. Avery, he tells her that it is a man’s job to ask a girl to dance and not the other way around. A more obvious argument here is that men are supposed to take charge of any sort of relationship and that women are submissive followers, not leaders.
Like My Fair Lady, this film ends with Jo and Mr. Avery ending up together and, most likely, getting married, even though they spent half the time of movie arguing and disagreeing. As we’ve seen before, this movie sends the message that even if a relationship is unhealthy (or the man is thirty years older, as was the case with Hepburn and Astaire), that is where a woman is meant to be.