My Fair Lady ★★★★½

I've always had a fondness for My Fair Lady. The musical was always adored by my mom, so I was exposed early and often to it's most classic tunes. It's a beautiful work, and I was surprised to find the cinematic adaptation was nearly just as winning. The songs are literate and artful; filmed so elegantly with incredibly detailed set-design and costuming. There's romance and comedy and genuine commentary to enjoy within it's familiar yet compelling narrative; love as a buried thing overpowered by things like class, gender roles and ambition. There's something deceptively current about it's consideration on gender especially; and how those other two things (class & ambition) tie into it. On it's surface; My Fair Lady might appear to have aged poorly. Mr. Higgins, the male piece of the central romance, is a piece of shit. He's pompous, arrogant and horribly elitist; the way he treats Eliza until the very end is despicable. But I think Eliza herself is a tremendously interesting character, especially one who is seemingly couched in a regressive and dated narrative. It's key that she functions as the catalyst for her and Higgins' relationship; her ambition gets the ball rolling. Rather than the film itself being misogynistic, I'd argue it's *about* misogyny.

I think it's easy to look at the film and say it's about an overbearing male taking, molding and transforming a pliable woman into whatever his idea of a "perfect woman" is. Alternatively, I'd say this is about Eliza's character's triumph in maintaining her identity through such a transformation; a strong woman resisting a small-minded man. I think its an open question to whether Higgins' multiple songs are bro-preciation anthems or attempts to humiliate that type of man; it remains unclear. Eliza's final decision perhaps seems incongruous with this reading, but if genuinely confronting the reality of early-1900's society as it pertains to opportunities for single, uneducated women; it's logically sound.

But mostly, My Fair Lady is a swooning ode to Eliza's revolutionary act in escaping the shackles of lower-class life and demonstrating that the smug superiority of the upper class is not earned, but inherited. This feels like a formative, influential work on class-consciousness and feminism. Hepburn shines in perhaps her best performance, and yes I am aware of the fact that Hepburn did not sing her own songs. My Fair Lady's dialogue is tricky. Loaded with wit, ideology and comedy; she's also forced to believably transition from cockney to Queen's English. Her work radiates confidence and elegance; there's genuine sorrow while she observes the life she left behind, and her joy at reaching Higgins' linguistic milestones is so powerful you can't help but smile along with her. Her anger is palpable, and her earnestness is endearing. She anchors this whole thing, it's a travesty that among the twelve Oscars this was nominated for; best actress wasn't among them. This is a marvelous movie.

Best Picture Marathon

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