Review: My Fair Lady (1964)

audrey-hepburn-my_l

That lady doth be fair indeed!

Screenplay By: Alan Jay Lerner
Directed By: George Cukor

There are moments when My Fair Lady plays like the greatest of all musicals, with wit, charm and an underlying darkness to it all. There are also moments where My Fair Lady loses its way and gets lost in its bloated nature. Luckily the great moments far outweigh the bloated moments. My Fair Lady stands as both lighthearted fare and as deep, meaningful material. It is in this balance that My Fair Lady finds its sturdiest footing. The deft mix of humor, love and darkness allows My Fair Lady a place of its own among musicals. George Cukor conducts the actors to fully inhabit the bright side of Alan Jay Lerner’s screenplay and he also grants them the freedom fully express the dark that is always at the back of the picture. It is that seamless meshing of such diverse themes that makes My Fair Lady a joy to watch.

To go along with that joy there is a bit of reservation in watching My Fair Lady. It is a bloated piece, with various scenes and a few musical numbers that could be dispatched with and the movie would flow along in a much better fashion. The character of Freddy comes across as very tacked on, only there to serve as a foil for Henry, and as that other option for Eliza that we all know she will never take. But, while it is bloated and could do without some of the excess, My Fair Lady does not cave to its excesses. There isn’t really a happy ending; that is left up to the imagination of the viewer. The fact that even in the final shot My Fair Lady is willing go to such an ambiguous place offsets how bloated it is in the middle.

There has always been a bit of controversy behind My Fair Lady because of the fact that Audrey Hepburn doesn’t actually sing her part and instead is lip syncing to the voice of Marnie Nixon. That was the way Hollywood worked back then and still works today, so I have never understood the problem. What Miss Hepburn did for the role was to make you care about Eliza and to believe in her transformation. Even if she didn’t really sing her part Miss Hepburn still delivered a virtuoso performance because of her ability to make us believe.

My Fair Lady isn’t the greatest musical of all time, but it is a great musical that takes a few steps back because of its excesses. The sets and costumes are gorgeous, but most importantly from the get go we are given reasons to care about the various characters. We can relate to the characters in My Fair Lady and therefore we feel for what happens to them and rejoice when things go their way. I may not be as high on My Fair Lady as others are, but it is certainly a movie that is worth a watch.

Rating:

***

Cheers,
Bill Thompson

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