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Film Review: My Fair Lady
In 1964, George Cukor released My Fair Lady, adapted from the 1956 Lerner and Loewe stage musical of the same name which was based on the 1938 film adaptation of the 1913 stage play Pygmalion. Starring Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Gladys Cooper, Jeremy Brett, Theodore Bikel, Mona Washbourne, Isobel Elsom, John Holland, Henry Daniell, Charles Fredericks, Queenie Leonard, and Moyna MacGill, the film grossed $72 million at the box office. Nominated for the Academy Awards for Writing Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress, the film won the awards for Best Picture, Directing, Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Sound, Original Music Score, Best Art Direction, and Costume Design as well as the Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Director – Motion Picture, and Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.
When poor Cockney flower seller Eliza shows up at Professor Higgins’ residence the day after overhearing him boast to his friend Colonel Pickering that he could teach her how to speak correctly and pass her off as a duchess, he is initially reluctant. However, he takes it on after Pickering bets that he can’t make good on his boast and subjects Eliza to humiliating comments and difficult training methods.
A film where a couple of the songs have grown more well-known than the movie itself, My Fair Lady is a pretty good film that’s certainly deserving of its Best Picture win. One reason for that is that its characters are very well done. Eliza as a leading lady is quite interesting, especially with her ambition to work in a flower shop but not having a proper enough accent to do so. It’s notable to see her go through the film with the resolve that she’s going to go through with the lessons even if it means humiliation. However, the film also shows that she values Higgins’ feedback as the one kind word he gives her after all the humiliating comments is what helps her to begin improving. At the same time, her frustration that Higgins doesn’t give her any credit in the process at the embassy ball is very realistic and is just one example of some really good acting by Hepburn.
Speaking of Higgins, he’s a very entertaining character especially with his distaste of the upper class (so much so that his boorish offensiveness makes it so that his own mother banned him from her circle of high class socialites). It really comes out during the horseracing scene when Eliza is offending all the high society members and he’s just laughing behind his hand. Further, he’s also established as an insufferable genius, seeing as he’s not only confident enough in his abilities, but that he can boast in them while still in earshot of the lonely flower girl he just berated through song. Still though, he’s seen as having at least one good friend during the story in the way of Pickering, with whom Higgins can swap barbed insults. Also, by the end of the story, he’s also got a friend in Eliza at the very least, considering the film does well in being ambiguous as to how the two turnout.
The songs present in the film all range from good to great and really starts off well with “Why Can’t the English Learn to Speak,” which is what really establishes both Eliza and Higgins’ characters. Other really good songs include “The Rain in Spain” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” Not only are they good in context, but they’re good by themselves, especially knowing that both of those have flown through popular culture with at least the latter showing up on The Simpsons.
Still though, the film isn’t perfect and what it really doesn’t have going for it is its pacing. Though good, the film is incredibly slow and takes practically forever to get anywhere. One such example is early on when Eliza shows up at Higgins’ home to seek lessons from him. The time before Eliza shows up is a perfect example, with Higgins and Pickering having a conversation about the methods that Higgins uses. Though this part of the scene isn’t very long, it still makes the scene longer than it needs to. The film had already established how good of friends the two were and how they interact in the previous scene as well.
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