The other day my friends and I gathered together for a afternoon of fun, frivolity, and musicals. As two members of our ranks had never seen My Fair Lady before, we decided to start with the Audrey Hepburn classic that answers the question 'where does the rain in Spain mainly stay'?
I'll admit that while I know nearly every word to the film's soundtrack, it had been years since I'd actually sat down and watched the movie from start to finish. And I have to say, watching it through the eyes of adulthood made me see the movie I'd always thought a bit of lighthearted fun in an entirely new light.
The ever so cheerful "Get Me to the Church on Time" is in fact not a song about a man anxious for his wedding day, but rather a man enjoying his last night of freedom before being dragged into matrimony [complete with him being carted off to the church in a simulation of a funeral procession]. And the "love story" between Eliza and Henry was a far cry from the romantic dream I remembered and something more akin to a feminist nightmare -- for what else would call a story where the fiercely strong female protagonist who admonished her admirers to not speak of love but show her ends up with a man who, upon her return, lounges back in his chair, places a newspaper over his face and asks where his slippers are.
As beloved as the songs from My Fair Lady have always been, I really struggled to enjoy the movie. It infuriated me that Eliza would end up with a man who showed her so little regard upon growing into a strong, self-possessed woman with all the necessary tools to start a more satisfactory life. I much prefer the ending of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, the play from which My Fair Lady draws its inspiration. For those of you unfamiliar with the original story, Shaw's version rejects the idea of a romanticized finale and shows Eliza leaving Henry in the end. Despite overwhelming criticism, Shaw avidly fought audience's desire for a "happy ending", staying true to his vision in which Eliza emancipates herself and starts a new life on her own terms. An ending which I respect and admire as much for Shaw's defense of it as for Eliza's triumph.
And as long as I'm discussing adaptations, there's one other I'd like to mention. Despite its loathsome title, I actually liked the reinvention of My Fair Lady in the new ABC sitcom, Selfie. Sure, its use of texting vernacular grates on my nerves and it tries to fit three hours of content into one half hour show. But despite its flaws, I think the series' portrayal of Henry and Eliza gets something right. Eliza remains a course, class-less girl in desperate need of elocution lessons [with modern substitutions of "lol" and "hashtag" for a Cockney accent]. But rather than depicting Henry as a cold, unlikable gentleman with little regard for people's feelings, he acts instead as a means for social commentary. Henry critiques the common practice of using sexual innuendo when communicating with our opposite-sex friends/acquaintances and the excessive presence of cell phones in our daily interractions, while generally encouraging us to devote our attention to the people around us rather than turning to electronic sources for human contact.
Together, Selfie's Henry and Eliza act as a reminder that social media is a far cry from real relationships. And while the show may soon disappear in the sea of mediocre sitcoms, I think its core ideas do greater credit to Shaw's Pygmalion than its predecessor, My Fair Lady.