My Fair Lady (1964)

It would horribly easy to brush off "My Fair Lady" as a piece of fluff cinema, existing only to pacify viewing by bludgeoning them into submission with corny number after number—indeed, that's how much of how the film feels. The movie tells the story of a woman, rising from the slums to embrace her inner lady and claim true independence; but amidst the three-hour film is a lot of singing, dancing, and deliciously malicious one-liners. So yes, "My Fair Lady" is fluffy, but there is much more to it than that.
Take for example a song sang from one bachelor to another, which turns into blatant homo-eroticism. Then there's alluding to prostitution, obsessive stalking, women being the providers in a relationship (gasp!), and everything but the kitchen sink. It's a musical remarkably ahead of its time...yet still tip-toeing on the threshold of unbearably boring.
Perhaps the most famous trivia that captures the attention of those obsessed with Audrey Hepburn and the film itself is the infamous omission of Hepburn from the Oscars that year. The lead actress award would fall to Julie Andrews for "Mary Poppins"; but this glaring oversight has fans still furious.
The movie begins, cementing a common theme that holds throughout—the impoverished versus the rich and opulent. The rich snobs pay no attention to the gutter children, the beggars, or the common drunks. They stand in a small shelter while rain pours and hold their noses high.
Enter Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn), a girl who sells flowers for a living. She's not well-spoken and completely adolescent in her interactions with other people. Eliza is paranoid and freaks out when she's told that there is a man writing down everything she says. Turns out that this man is a phonetics professor who is disgustingly entranced by her "vulgar" accent and the way she butchers the English language. This man is Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison)—the predecessor to Jack Donaghy.
Higgins is unashamedly vocal about his thoughts, completely misguided about people's perception of him, and in love with himself.
He makes an offhand comment that he could turn the flower girl into a proper lady in six months and it would fool even the most trained eye.
Hearing this, Eliza gets haunted by the idea of living a rich life. She tracks down professor Higgins and demands that he honor his word. The professor is so delighted by the show of unsophisticated manners and brash opinions that he whole-heartedly accepts the request. Eliza Doolittle will be made into a lady.
As far as leading ladies go, Hepburn is a safe choice—yet is exceedingly annoying in the first half of the movie. Her childish tantrums and whining are enough to make anyone sympathize with Higgins and the verbal barbs that never cease to flow from his mouth.
Once she starts becoming a lady, it gets exponentially more bearable.
Higgins has a metal tongue, his insults are such a guilty pleasure to here. Yet he may have bitten off more than he can chew with Eliza, who proves to him that she is more than an experiment...she is a lady.
"My Fair Lady" doesn't indulge in the 'typical' types of story lines for a musical. The lead character isn't full of grace, the lead man isn't a hero, and there is no clearly defined romance. It's adult in what it alludes to, perhaps drawing influences from "Tom Jones" which won best picture the year prior.
The style of the film is great, the sets are huge and impressive, and every scene takes long lengths to show off the costume designs and the make-up. It's a gaudy show...but not a mindless picture like "The Greatest Show on Earth".
I think the true star of the movie is Rex Harrison, who gained a well-deserved Oscar for his biting and sarcastic portrayal. He's magnificent in every scene he's in and completely convinces you of his character. He commands the camera.
Winner of a staggering eight Oscars, "My Fair Lady is a fun movie. What makes it enjoyable is that underneath the frills and the spectacle, the film actually has a mind and a heart.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

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