“They’ve pounded into my head I’m backward for my age — but I know what all this means.”
In turn-of-the-century Paris, a teen (Leslie Caron) living with her grandmother (Hermione Gingold) is groomed by her great-aunt (Isabel Jeans) to be a courtesan — but when a family friend (Louis Jourdan) takes a romantic interest in young Gigi (Caron), she begins to question her future.
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes — and I agree — that Vincente Minnelli’s “exuberant musical, the winner of nine Academy Awards including Best Picture”, features a “bright and witty” script (based on Colette’s 1944 novella), “appealing” stars, “colorful costumes and sets [evocative of] Paris [in] 1900”, and “some charming songs” — including Peary’s (and my) favorite, “I Remember It Well”, as Gingold and Maurice Chevalier “warmly sing of their long-ago romance”. Indeed, I was pleasantly surprised to revisit this film for the first time in over 20 years (I last saw it as a teenage ff), and to find that I appreciate it much more now that I’m better able to understand the nuances of its social milieu. Without a grasp of the “Belle Epoque” societal norms that Colette was depicting in her story, it’s difficult to understand the basic premise of the story, or to fully appreciate the type of dilemma faced by Gigi and Jourdan’s “Gaston” — so younger film fanatics should be duly forewarned.
Storyline aside, however, the film — often designated as the last great MGM musical — works on nearly all other levels. To elaborate on Peary’s points above, it also features excellent use of authentic outdoor locales in France, vibrant Technicolor cinematography, and songs that are integrated seamlessly into the narrative (I’m especially fond of how “Waltz at Maxim’s [She’s Not Thinking of Me]”, with Eva Gabor as Jourdan’s mistress, is handled). Meanwhile, most of the cast is top-notch, with Caron in particular demonstrating a tremendous leap in acting ability since her 19-year-old debut in Minnelli’s An American in Paris (1951). She manages to effectively portray Gigi both as an innocent adolescent and as an emergent courtesan; we can easily understand why Jourdan would fall for her. Jourdan (second choice after Dirk Bogarde, who would have been wonderful) capably embodies bored Gaston (his clever duet with Chevalier — “It’s a Bore” — allows us to understand his character within just a few minutes); but I’ll admit I find Chevalier — especially as he sings “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” (my least favorite number) — a tad creepy.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Leslie Caron as Gigi
- Hermione Gingold as Madame Alvarez
- Lovely musical numbers — especially Gingold and Chevalier’s duet “I Remember It Well”
- Fine period production design and costumes
- Vibrant Technicolor cinematography
- Excellent use of authentic Parisian locales
Yes, as an Oscar-winning classic.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)