Alan Jay Lerner (Novel by Colette)
Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan, Hermione Gingold, Eva Gabor, Jacques Bergerac, Isabel Jeans, John Abbott
Paris. Director Vincente Minnelli takes audiences back to the French capital for another musical journey in Gigi.
The film opens with the estimable Maurice Chevalier as the cantankerous bachelor Honore Lachaille singing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls”.His lament speaks of how quickly children grow up to become the women he sees around him. The little girls he watches are carefree whereas the adults around them are refined and sophisticated. It is obvious he longs for the kind of willful spirit these young girls possess but we find out later he had given that chance up long ago.
Gigi (Leslie Caron) is the kind of girl he sings about. She’s a tomboy at heart, constantly joking and hardly taking the grown-up life seriously. While her mother leads the “dubious” life of a singer (and is only ever heard singing off screen), Madame Alvarez (Hermione Gingold) and Aunt Alicia (Isabel Jeans) have taken it on themselves to raise Gigi the “right” way and ensure she becomes a proper lady.
Constantly hanging around the winsome girl, Gaston Lachaille (Louis Jourdan) regularly laments about the boring women he meets who are hung up on style and fashion and seem unconcerned with fun. He doesn’t see it immediately but he soon realizes that Gigi is everything he’s ever wanted in a girl and more. Unfortunately for her, Gigi doesn’t realize the reasons for his affections and begins putting on the façade she’s been taught, causing a rift in their relationship.
Perhaps more vivid than his first Best Picture winner An American in Paris, Minnelli, with the help of cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg, creates a beautiful palette of colors to bring Gigi vividly off the screen. The music is far catchier than the more vaudevillian styles of American in Paris and is delivered more convincingly by Chevalier and Jourdan.
All of the technical elements work dazzlingly well together. The performances are sufficient to tell the story, though Jourdan is too stiff for someone so in love with insouciance. Caron outperforms Jourdan, but as the film’s leads, their work is notably unimpressive. Chevalier and Gingold steal the show from their compatriots giving the audience an entertaining diversion.
Minnelli’s faults follow him from American in Paris to Gigi.The film drags a great deal despite the musical jauntiness. Minnelli seems abjectly content with keeping the camera still while the action is going on. While he focused too heavily on dance in Paris, he neglected it in Gigi. The fun of this style of musical picture is its lighthearted nature and ability to transport the audience to place it might never see or might not even exist. Gigi does transport the viewer to beautiful French settings, but the film periodically wanders aimlessly.
Gigi is fun and amusing but is little more than escapist entertainment. It is certainly characteristic of the musical style of the period but lacks the emotional impact of shows like My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music. Minnelli knows how to deliver Academy favorites and though the film has quite a few problems, it at least does what it sets out to do: entertain.
November 13, 2006