The Devil may wear Prada, but the rest of the fashion world wears pink, at least according to Stanley Donen’s endearingly naïve Funny Face. Choreographed by and co-starring Fred Astaire, fashion week in Paris has never seemed so forgiving. When fashion photographer Dick Avery (Astaire) and his eternally tolerant employer—Quality magazine’s editor-in-chief, Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson), who’s far less likely to bite the heads off interns as she is to hoof it in an impromptu soft shoe—decide to scour the grungy Greenwich Village bookshops in an attempt to give one of their brainless models an air of intelligence, they run up against a long-necked but black-slacked proto-Maoist named, horror of horrors, Jo.
Audrey Hepburn plays the little bookworm (and title character) not so much as an Ugly Betty, but rather a maladroit mademoiselle-in-deigning. Her intellectual principals keep her at a safe distance from the threat of selling out even as they keep her romantic possibilities so low that she’d fall for the first man who ever gave her a second glance, even if he is, like Dick, twice her age. The poor girl is, after all, first seen wearing a potato sack. When Dick tricks Jo into delivering a stack of pricey coffee-table books to Quality HQ, he keeps her there by dangling the promise of expanding her philosophical horizons during a weeklong trip to Paris. The catch is that she has to condescend to becoming the world’s next top model. Jo suffers the indignity of becoming instantly famous and gorgeous long enough to redeem the plane ticket across the pond, but snubs her debut show’s fitting session to pour cheap wine down the throats of skeezy bohemians so they’ll listen to her parrot a trendy professor’s thoughts on the power of empathy.
The clothing may be couture, but Funny Face‘s plot is strictly wash, rinse, repeat. So whenever Jo’s beauty threatens to overwhelm the scene, she remembers her silly girl fantasies of being respected for the shapely contours of her big, buxom brain. As a result, the film is a tad lumpy, and even affixing clothespins along its spine can’t quite make the entire ensemble gel. The major exception is Hepburn’s centerpiece dance of defiance at a cavernous café on the far side of Montmartre, where Donen’s prowling tracking shots encircle the jaunty angularity of Hepburn (in easily the film’s most fashionable outfit: jet-black mock turtleneck and Capri pants against the milky exposed flesh of her ankles) as her routine moves from pretension to sensuality to playful athleticism. That’s dancing, that’s synthesis, and that’s Bob Fosse’s impending collaboration with Donen on The Pajama Game just around the corner.