Gigi (review)

Someday My Prince Will, er, Come

Gigi was kinda the Pretty Woman of the 50s. I hate to say that, because I hate that stupid movie (a fairy tale about a hooker!), and Gigi is simply a charming delight. But this Lerner and Loewe musical does bear the tiniest superficial resemblance to that other flick, though it ends up offering a much more positive moral.

Teenager Gigi (Leslie Caron) is a bit of a tomboy. It’s turn-of-the-century Paris, and she completely fails to understand the French obsession with love. Which will undoubtedly turn out to be an occupational hazard, as Gigi is being trained by her grandmother (Hermione Gingold) and aunt (Isabel Jeans) to be a courtesan, as they were in their youth. Rambunctious and a bit of a free spirit, she resists her lessons, even though her aunt scolds her that “bad table manners have broken up more households than infidelity.” Gigi gulps wine when she should be sipping and cares little for clothes or ladylike behavior.

Cut to rich sugar magnate Honore Lachaille (Maurice Chevalier), who hasn’t let his advancing age interfere with his exuberant enjoyment of chasing beautiful women — as he reminds us in “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” (the lyrics of which I’ve always thought were just a wee bit creepy, but it’s got a catchy tune). His nephew Gaston (yummy Louis Jourdan) is dreadfully bored with romantic games and his succession of vapid if lovely conquests — “the Earth is round but everything on it is flat,” he moans in “It’s a Bore.” Gigi’s grandmother was Honore’s mistress, years earlier, and he’s become a sort of guardian to the girl, and Gaston, though older than Gigi, has been her dear friend and companion since she was a child.

Ah, but children grow up, and when Gigi’s grandmother and aunt realize that Gaston may be falling for Gigi, they hurry her lessons along, transforming her practically overnight from a spitfire girl to a beautiful young woman (it’s no coincidence that Lerner and Loewe are also responsible for the 1964 Best Picture My Fair Lady).

Where Pretty Woman suggests that being Streetwalker Barbie is a good way to meet the man of your dreams, Gigi goes the opposite way. Gaston is initially impressed with the metamorphosed Gigi, suddenly poised and proper and stunning to behold, but then it occurs to him that now she’s like all the other women he has wearied of. It’s the defiant and playful Gigi with whom he fell in love. The much more life-affirming moral of this story is one of my favorite themes: Be yourself.

Oh, I haven’t given anything away. Gigi and Gaston are made for each other — that much is obvious from their first moment together on screen. Knowing that they end up together won’t detract in the least from your enjoyment of this funny, clever, fabulous movie.

Oscars Best Motion Picture 1958
unforgettable movie moment:
Honore and Gigi’s grandmother recall their younger days as lovers as they sing “I Remember It Well.”

previous Best Picture:
1957: The Bridge on the River Kwai
next Best Picture:
1959: Ben-Hur

go> the complete list of Oscar-winning Best Pictures

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