Title: My Fair Lady
Release Date: 21 October, 1964
Oscar Ceremony: 5 April, 1965
Director: George Cukor
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison & Stanley Holloway
Nominees: Becket, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Mary Poppins, Zorba the Greek
“The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated.” – Eliza Doolittle
My Fair Lady is the first movie on this list that I had already seen prior to undertaking the project. I have to say, it feels a bit weird reaching such familiar territory. Moreover, Mary Poppins was one of its fellow nominees, and that’s also a movie that means a lot to me. What a big year!
I’m happy that The Best Picture Adventure gave me an excuse to watch this again. Overall, it’s pretty much exactly how I remembered it, except now I was able to understand it a bit better as an adult. You know that feeling when you rewatch an animated movie you used to love as a kid and notice a bunch of jokes that you never realized were there in the first place? Yeah, that’s me and My Fair Lady. I had quite a few crazy laughs this time around, and successfully dragged Julian into the party (he laughed pretty hard too).
The oh-so-perfect Audrey Hepburn plays Eliza Doolittle, a lower-class flower seller in the streets of London during the early 1900s. She goes about minding her own business when one evening, a wealthy linguist named Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) starts listening to her heavy Cockney accent and takes notes. It doesn’t take too long to realize that he’s a rather arrogant and misogynistic man who spends his time judging people by their accent and tone of voice. To his ears, Eliza sounds positively ghastly and extremely unladylike, but he is so sure of himself and the power of linguistics that he bets that in a few months, he can bring her to a ball and pass her off as a duchess. Having bigger dreams for herself than living in the streets, Eliza accepts to receive lessons from him in the hopes that it will help her one day own her own shop. Also, Higgins offers her a lot of chocolate, and boy does Eliza love chocolate. Watching them trying to accomplish this feat is a really unique and quirky experience.
I’m just going to start with one of my biggest issues for the sake of getting it out of the way: What’s with Hollywood and dubbing singing voices? In West Side Story, they dubbed Maria, but at least it was done seamlessly. In My Fair Lady, they dubbed Eliza and it sure as hell didn’t fool anyone. It’s so painfully obvious… Audrey Hepburn goes from a normal talking voice to a squeaky opera soprano within seconds. It ruins it for me. HOWEVER, I have no problem admitting that Hepburn is completely irreplaceable in this movie, so I forgive them. No one plays Eliza quite as magically as she does. It’s a shame she didn’t get nominated for an Oscar, because she honestly blew me away. Then again, when does she ever not? BRB, going to borrow a bunch more Audrey Hepburn movies from the library.
On a more serious note, there’s a special place in my heart for linguistics. It’s probably the only type of science I’ll ever be 100% fascinated by. Earlier this year, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival rekindled the flame and now My Fair Lady completely solidified it. It’s so fascinating to think about how we speak and what that says about us… it’s equally thought-provoking to realize that there are probably 1000 different ways (if not more) to speak the English language. However, unlike Henry Higgins, I don’t believe there’s such a thing as “proper” English. I mean, how can you ever decide which version counts as the master version that trumps all others? It’s impossible.
The other great part about this movie is being able to laugh at what is considered upper-class etiquette. When Professor Higgins decides that Eliza is ready for her first test, he decides to bring her to a fancy derby racecourse and makes her interact with a bunch of pretentious rich folks. While she manages to preserve her new “proper” accent, some of the things she ends up saying are ridiculously inappropriate. Normally, that would make me suffer from intense secondhand embarrassment, but Audrey Hepburn is just so inherently funny and charming that all I can do is laugh. She’s a real gem, and her co-star Rex Harrison is none the lesser. Even if his character makes you want to role your eyes most of the time, he plays him with such impeccable wit and humour that it makes you want to listen to his lines and gawk at his facial expressions all day long. The people in charge of casting really nailed it with this one.
Between the glowing leads and the unforgettable musical numbers (I’ve been singing a weird medley of “Wouldn’t it be Loverly,” “Just You Wait” (partially sung by Audrey Hepburn herself!) and “The Rain in Spain” all day), My Fair Lady is quite a masterpiece. In the end, is this a cheesy Hollywood adaptation of a classic play? Yes. Does that make it any less enjoyable? Certainly not.