The Best Picture Winners: Gigi (1958)

| November 8, 2017

Oscar’s 90th birthday is just around the corner and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.

You really can’t blame MGM for trying to match the current Broadway smash “My Fair Lady” by coming up with a tale of love and lady-training all their own.

Well . . . not completely their own, Gigi was pried from a 1944 novella by French author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette who wrote the story when she was in her 70s and didn’t live to see her work come to the screen.

It might have been for the best that she never saw the finished product.  Vincent Minnelli’s overstuffed, garish, Technicolor musical is a rather sponge-cleaned version of Collette’s work; the story of a sweet young Parisian girl (Leslie Caron) in turn-of-the-century France who is groomed by her aunt and grandmother (Isabel Jeans and Hermione Gingold) to be a courtesan and ends up falling in love with Gaston (Louis Jourdan), a family friend.  He, meanwhile, grows tired of the implications of being forced into Gigi’s arms and returns time and again for counsel with his elderly Uncle Honoré (Maurice Chevalier in a marvelous performance) who is in his 70s and just happy to be too old for such entanglements.

So, here’s the good news.  It has been 10 days since I revisited the film and I find myself absentmindedly humming “The Night They Invented Champagne”, “I Remember It Well” and of course, “Thank Heaven for Little Girls”.  Lerner and Lowe were the best in the business and if their songs stayed in my head for almost two weeks then I can say that they did their jobs.

Now, the bad news.  I’m uncomfortable with this story.  I realize that Aunt Alicia and Grandmama Alvarez want to turn Gigi into a lady fit for society, but what they are pushing her into comes off as socially-acceptable pimping.  What exactly do they think they’re training her for?  Prostitution?  That’s unsettling for a lively musical.  What worse, poor Gigi gets batted around this story like a tennis ball with no real agency.  Where is her hand in the call of her own destiny?  Why does she not protest it?  Meanwhile Gaston (who can’t seem to go one scene without using the word ‘bore’) keeps getting frustrated and storming out the door and out of Gigi’s life only to return and profess his love.  This is a long movie to sustain such a trite will-they-or-won’t-they plot.

Gigi is a movie that works in fits and starts, and actually only falls apart once the romance-or-courtesan plot comes into play.  I didn’t believe the romance between Gigi and Gaston because he spends so much time being cruel and dismissing her that their didn’t seem time for any real romantic sparks to ignite.  Halfway through the will-they-or-won’t they plot, I found that I just didn’t care.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.