Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Run Time:1 hour and 55 minutes
Cast: Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan, Eva Gabor, Isabel Jeans
A young woman, who is slightly rough around the edges, is tailored and trained in the mannerisms of high society. In the end she successfully completes the transformation and becomes a beautiful and refined woman, winning the heart of her mentor. All of this is told through various musical numbers.
If you guessed My Fair Lady, you are wrong, but very close.
If your answer was Gigi...
DING DING DING!
You are right. Gigi was Lerner and Loewe's follow up to My Fair Lady. Filmed on location in Paris (besides a few scenes filmed in an MGM Hollywood studio), it was an adaptation of Collette's novel of the same title. The story follows a young woman, and a slightly older man. She is Gigi, and he is Gaston. Gigi (portrayed by the adorable and beautiful Leslie Caron) is a tomboyish Parisian girl being trained as a courtesan by her aunt (who was once a famous courtesan herself), and her grandmother. Gaston ( the handsome Louis Jourdan) is a wealthy and handsome playboy who serves as a friend and role model to Gigi. When we first meet him, he is being disgraced by his current mistress, who is openly cheating on him with a soldier. He deems that the only logical response is to confront her in public place about this and humiliate her, making their situation the scandal and focal point of Parisian society. To re-establish his superiority, he takes a different woman with him to the famous Maxim's every night, in an effort to incite gossip in a way that could only be matched by today's young hollywood. Meanwhile, Gigi is being trained to identify exemplary jewelry and to pick out cigars for her male patrons. One day Gaston looks up to discover that the little girl he once knew is now a beautifully refined woman. At last he is able to embrace the feelings he has always had for her. After a brief back and forth, they get married.
Fans of classic musicals will most likely enjoy Gigi. The score is really wonderful, and there are some great performances. Maurice Chevalier steals the show, of course. He performs show stopping numbers such as "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" and "I'm glad I'm not Young anymore." However, the movie is .more light than would be expected for the story of a girl who is being prepped by her family to participate in the sex industry. The movie does not ever confront this issue, perhaps because the creators thought it necessary to keep this musical as light and fun as possible. Still, it seems as though the movie suffers from trying too hard to integrate the values of the characters into the values of the American middle class. When Gaston asks Gigi to become his mistress, she is offended that he would want her to lead such an indecent life. This is odd, because it implies that she doesn't know what her grandmother and aunt intend for her, which is pretty troubling. In the end they get married, making her a decent woman, but the role of prostitution in the film is not addressed very well at all. A scene of confrontation between Gigi and her relatives would have certainly been a tonal shift, but it might have made the film a bit more meaty, and sent a clearer message to audiences. I have not read the original novel, but having read other works by Colette, I find it hard to believe that one of her heroine could be so unquestioning.
Still, there is some humorous social satire here. The necessity of Gaston to salvage his image by participating in numerous meaningless trysts is pretty comical, and from a 2007 lens, is very reminiscent of today's celebrity gossip culture. Almost all of the characters (besides pre-transformation Gigi) are obsessed with appearances to a ridiculous extent.It also seems like there is a mild tone of criticism of marriage, although this is subverted by the matrimony between Gigi and Gaston.
Gigi won a whopping 9 academy awards in 1958. Although I wouldn't say this is my favorite film, knowing that makes me wish I could live in a time when Best Picture winners weren't always such self important movies. Gigi is an interesting story, with wonderful mise en scene and music, and is perhaps superior to most of the recent best picture winners (save The Departed). This film delights and entices, and will have you singing along by its last chapter.