Starring: Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan, Hermione Gingold, Eva Garbor, Jacques Bergerac, Isabel Jeans, John Abbott
Weary of the conventions of Parisian society, a rich playboy and a youthful courtesan-in-training enjoy a platonic friendship, but it may not stay platonic for long. Gaston, the scion of a wealthy Parisian family finds emotional refuge from the superficial lifestyle of upper class Parisian 1900s society with the former mistress of his uncle and her outgoing, tomboy granddaughter, Gigi. When Gaston becomes aware that Gigi has matured into a woman, her grandmother and aunt, who have educated Gigi to be a wealthy man's mistress, urge the pair to act out their roles but love adds a surprise twist to this delightful turn-of-the 20th century Cinderella story.
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Oscar has always been kind to musicals, giving them a Best Picture win every so often. From The Broadway Melody to Chicago, the Academy, as well as the popular audience, have continually recognized musicals for the art form they are. Vincente Minnelli's Gigi (1958) was no exception. However it hasn't retained its original allure or cultural significance as some musicals have. In fact, it often seems that this film has been swept under the doormat of time. It doesn’t contain many
Gigi opens with an omniscient narrator introducing the film audience to Gigi and her life in Paris. He sings a questionable little number called ‘Thank Heavens for Little Girls’ and we see Gigi kicking a ball around with her fellow playmates. She’s a bit tomboyish and young at heart. Then we meet the narrator’s nephew, Gaston, who is a young bachelor, unwilling to settle for just anything. He is lost in life and doesn’t want to follow the conventional order of society’s rules. Instead, he spends most of his free time (and there’s a lot since he’s very wealthy and doesn’t need to work) with Gigi and her grandmother, Madame Alvarez.
However, Alvarez sends Gigi to cotillion at her Aunt Alicia’s house where she practices manners and learns how to be a proper young lady. Needless to say, Gigi hates it and only wants to see Gaston. When Gaston decides to take a vacation to get away from his boring life, he agrees to take Gigi with him and the two of them bond. They soon return to their normal lives, but now Gigi eagerly awaits her studies with Aunt Alicia so she can win over Gaston.
However, when she tries to impress him with what she has learned and adorns a flowing white gown (very different than her girl clothes), he becomes enraged and storms out of the house. This breaks young Gigi’s heart and she feels ashamed of her transformation. But when Gaston has a change of heart and realizes he really does love Gigi, he returns to her, asking for her hand in marriage, though Gigi appears to be quite young. Out of spite, Gigi declines, wishing to live a life of freedom instead of falling for the first man that wants her. Gaston is thrown for a loop and leaves. Yet again, Gigi has a change of heart and she tells Gaston she does want to be with him. She changes back into her ‘woman’ clothes and the two eat a nice dinner together amongst the glaring eyes of the rest of Paris. Gaston doesn’t care though and the two live happily ever after.
This is the classic story of transformation, of changing yourself for the one you love. It’s now been done a million times and it never seems to get old. Film audiences love to see an ‘ugly’ young girl transform into a beautiful butterfly, and it’s usually pretty funny to watch the naïve girl stumble her way through. Pretty Woman did it. Princess Diaries did it. And yes, She’s All That did it. Fortunately, at the end of most of these films, the man they are trying to swoon loves them for who they truly are inside and not the remade version. Gigi isn’t particularly funny, but I firmly believe that these newer, more entertaining hits wouldn’t have come to be without a few misses.
Gigi also takes a look at society and questions its conventions, not only for young women at the time, but especially for young men too. Both genders were pressured to find a spouse, whether love was involved or not. It was just the way it was. So, not only do we feel for Gigi, but we also feel for Gaston. Both characters are lost in life because they don’t follow these orders and I’m sure almost everyone has felt the same way, at one time or another. Though, the film is a bit slow, Gigi is still a classic in its own right and makes you think about what you really want as opposed to what society wants for you. It took home a whopping nine Oscars.