My Fair Lady

AFI Rank: #91
Year Released: 1964
Director: George Cukor
Actors: Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison

I watched My Fair Lady as part of my quest to freshly watch all movies in the AFI top 100 with new eyes. I wanted to see them all side by side, in modern times, and evaluate how well they had held up.

First, I want to say that I realize that many people who saw this fresh in 1964 probably have emotional ties to it. I have emotional ties to Star Wars when I saw it as a child, and I understand that completely. However, when I watch it now, as an adult, I can more clearly see how it stands up to modern films and what it should have done differently. That is going to be true with most movies.

So, as much as I adore Audrey Hepburn and sing along to some of the music, I still have a few points to make.

First, I still find it creepy that Rex Harrison is a fairly harsh, squashing-women personality who is hurtful and mean in many scenes. He is over twenty years older than Audrey Hepburn. He takes her in literally as a teacher figure. And with all of that, it is "quite OK" for Audrey to fall in love with him. How is this different from a young college student falling in love with her professor, and him taking advantage of that relationship? The girl is living at his house. She is completely under his control and even wearing the clothes he provides. He is shaping her like he's playing with a doll, and he is cruel to her along the way. So finally she gets a type of Stockholm Syndrome merged with a very stereotypical teacher's crush, and it's considered great? I am very uncomfortable with this entire situation.

Her father is clearly not much better. He's a drunkard who wants to take advantage of her in any way he can - including willingly selling her into sexual slavery. But that doesn't mean Rex is somehow a shining knight for what he does.

Yes, I adore the music. Yes, I adore the costumes! And I appreciate that unlike many other movies in the AFI top 100 it actually has women in strong roles. We do at least have Audrey, Rex's mother, and Rex's housemaid all holding strong parts. There are few movies in the AFI top 100 which pass the Bechdel test (which is scary in the first place) and this movie is one that passes. So it gets great kudos for that.

But that still, for me, doesn't get past the key issue here, of what message it's sending. A woman is stuck in a situation until a man comes along and reshapes her into what he thinks is best for her. A man traps her in the first place, and another man moves her up to a higher level. And when she gets there, she is completely helpless again - saying "now what do I do??" - until a man helps her out again.

I know some people will say "it's just a comedy" - but isn't the whole reason a comedy is funny is that it's playing on a view of reality? Why is it funny to joke about Drunk Irishmen, but it doesn't make as much sense to joke about Drunk Swiss?

I wanted her to end up with the same-aged man who adored her. Not with the nasty old man who mistreated her from start to finish.

AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100