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Gigi (Vincente Minnelli) 1958


    The rally cry of Gaston Lachaille (Louis Jordan), the very eligible Parisian bachelor who sits at the center of Gigi is, “It’s a bore,” and though I can’t really say that his worldview adequately describes the experience of watching the film, it’s not as far from the truth as the reputation of this ten time Oscar winner might lead you to believe. It’s definitely a lesser film than An American in Paris, another Minnelli-directed musical that also won a Best Picture Oscar, and it pales in comparison to My Fair Lady, which shares its writers. The production design is as lavishly detailed as it is in any other MGM musical of the era, but many of the other pleasures that one would expect to find in a Hollywood musical are missing here. There’s next to no dancing, and most of the songs are delivered by a single character who remains framed in the center of a static 'Scope medium shot. Even in the group numbers, the arrangements of the actors feels less like choreography than overly fussy mise-en-scene. Worst of all are the phony, overly nasal French accents that the cast adopts whenever they speak (in English).


    It doesn’t help matters much that this tale of a sixteen year old’s courtship is framed by the creepy narration of Maurice Chevalier, an ancient Frenchman, who adds seediness to the proceedings by singing, “Thank Heaven For Little Girls.” It’s nauseating, especially given the brightly colored backdrop that it’s delivered in, and it has the effect of making you glad that the story is as sugar coated as it is. Still, there remains a spoonful of cynicism throughout that makes the confectionary romance that the movie wants to recount a bit tough to swallow, but the film doesn’t exactly work as a satire of Paris’s amorous flippancy either. The lampoon is buried here under a heap of overly gussied art direction that seems to endorse the satirized lifestyle by making it beautiful. The overly sentimental nature of the film and the refusal to ever present its titular character as an object worthy of ridicule only worsen matters. There are occasional flashes of wit that suggest what Gigi might have been if it were made a bit less conservatively (and more faithfully to its Colette-penned source material), and they’re always funnier than what surrounds them. Though there are several good performances here, they seem suffocated. Other films set in turn-of-the-century Paris show a much spunkier version of the city, making me think that this time Hollywood’s chastity beat out cultural accuracy.


* * 1/2 


Jeremy Heilman