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Film / An American in Paris

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A classic 1951 musical romantic comedy starring Gene Kelly just one year before he went on to perform in Singin' in the Rain, and directed by the legendary Vincente Minnelli, with a story and screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner. Taking place in a (very idealized) post-World War II Paris, An American in Paris tells the tale of an expatriate named Jerry Mulligan (Kelly), as he attempts to scrape a living as an artist in the Left Bank. While doing so, he falls in love with Lise (Leslie Caron), but she loves his friend, Henri, one of the most successful musicians in Paris.

The plot is nothing to write home about, since it's mostly a pretext to hang George Gershwin's music and Kelly's choreography on. Luckily, the film is buoyed by an excellent cast and capable director. One quirk of the movie is its lack of Parisian locations, opting instead for hyper-stylized, colorful scenery that evokes Impressionist paintings. It is best remembered for its climax: a 16-minute, psychedelic ballet inside the main protagonist's psyche.

Adapted into a stage musical in 2015.

This movie provides examples of:

  • Age-Gap Romance: Both Jerry and Henri (whose actors were both in their late 30s) are vying for the affections of Lise, who is 19.
  • Art Imitates Art: Irene Sharaff designed a style for each of the ballet sequence sets, reflecting various French impressionist painters: Raoul Dufy (the Place de la Concorde), Edouard Manet (the flower market), Maurice Utrillo (a Paris street), Henri Rousseau (the fair), Vincent van Gogh (the Place de l'Opera), and Henri de Toulouse Lautrec (the Moulin Rouge). The backgrounds took six weeks to build, with 30 painters working nonstop.
  • Big Fancy House: Milo's apartment. Jerry looks around as though he's wandered into the wrong Fred Astaire movie by mistake.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Adam is allergic to work and subsists himself entirely on scholarships, making him (by his own admission) "the world's oldest child prodigy." Nevertheless, a peek into his dream world betrays his concert hall ambitions.
  • Costume Porn: Paired with Scenery Porn. In Technicolor, all the endless costumes and set designs are as stunning as the performances.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Adam Cook.
  • Disney Acid Sequence & Dream Sequence
    • Henri's glowing description of his girlfriend, Lise, plays out in a series of ballet routines. Each time Adam asks what she's like, Henri comes up with a comically different answer.
    • There is one scene where Oscar Levant's character, Adam, is just sitting in his apartment, all by himself, staring off into space. Then, unexpectedly, the scene then cuts to him performing the third movement of Gershwin's Concerto in F in a grand concert hall. Both the band and the audience is composed entirely of himself(!).
    • Towards the end of the movie, Jerry has seemingly just lost Lise to his friend, Henri, and the two are flying off to America to get married. The camera cuts to reveal two pieces of paper, containing Jerry's sketch of the Arc de Triomphe, which land side-by-side, almost as if it was never ripped in half. Then, it dissolves to Jerry being transported to a strange realm that resembles a series of famous French paintings.note 
  • Disposable Fiancé: Henri is a particularly kindhearted example. Though he looks stormy when he finds out just who that lovely young lady he was encouraging Jerry to pursue is, after an offscreen conversation with Lise (where presumably she confesses just how much she returns Jerry's affections), he drives her right back to the party so she can run into Jerry's arms, and smiles as she does so.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Rejected by Lise over the phone, Jerry simply goes to her workplace and keeps talking to her until she agrees to go on a date with him.
  • Double Take: Jerry's reaction to seeing Winston Churchill painting alone by the river. The "British Bulldog" was an amateur painter in real life.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: Jerry and Lise lament their thwarted love to each other, unaware that a stony-faced Henri is listening in.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: In the final dream sequence, Jerry keeps running after Lise, but she always slips away from him. At one point, she turns into flowers whilst wrapped in his arms.
  • Flower Motifs: In this case, a rose.
  • Freudian Trio: Adam's a chain-smoking cynic, Henri's drunk on life, and Jerry is an uneasy mix of the two.
  • Friend to All Children: Jerry adores kids, but he hates college students.
    Jerry: They're always making profound observations they've overheard.
  • Gay Paree
  • Glamorous Wartime Singer: Inverted with Henri, who can't tolerate jazz and prefers the old-school, sentimental stuff. He has an entire number all about how much he's a fan of Strauss waltzes.
  • Hollywood Old: Georges Guétary, who was actually younger than Gene Kelly at the time. They greyed up the actor's hair so it wouldn't be as obvious.
  • Hopeless Suitor: Milo Roberts, the American heiress who expressed interest in Jerry's paintings. Jerry, convinced that Milo wanted nothing more than a gigolo, wants none of it, but Milo convinces him to let her be his patron. She ends up falling hard for Jerry, but her feelings aren't reciprocated.
  • Hypocritical Humor: During Adam's voice-over, he mentions having to support himself (le gasp!) for a brief stretch, but stopped because "I was beginning to like it, and I didn't want to become a slave to the habit." (He says with a cigarette dangling from his mouth.)
  • Idle Rich: Milo, who supports herself (and Jerry) on her father's fortune in suntan oil. The closest she comes to a job is plugging Jerry to various art critics and gallery owners.
    Jerry: What are you working on?
    Milo: At the moment, you.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: The last scene of the movie, Henri realizes that Lise truly loves Jerry and gallantly steps aside so Lise and Jerry can be together.
  • I'm Standing Right Here: Subverted. While serving drinks at a party, Adam engages Milo in conversation and makes a backhanded remark about Jerry's "sponsor". Unamused, Milo reveals her identity, to which Adam retorts, "I know who you are."
  • Insignia Ripoff Ritual: Jerry tears a sketch in half, quietly declaring that he and Paris are done; it's just going to remind him of Lise from now on. This sketch becomes the setting for the ballet.
  • Joisey: "Perth Amboy, New Jersey!"
  • Lady in Red: Jerry is constantly being hounded by 'Furies' in the ballet sequence. It's your guess as to what they represent. This is a Shout-Out to Agnes De Mille's choreography in Oklahoma!, which featured the same ladies in red hunting Curly.
  • Love Triangle: Henri, oblivious to this, offers straight-faced advice to Jerry on how to woo their girl. "S' Wonderful" ends hilariously with both male leads on opposite ends of the street, singing, "That she should care for ME!"
  • Not Listening to Me, Are You?: Adam's vain attempts to halt Jerry and Henri's intersecting chat about Lise.
    Adam: Did I ever tell you about the time I gave a command performance for Hitler?
  • Opposites Attract Revenge: Upon being jilted, Jerry comes knocking on Milo's door again.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Adam is a deadpan version of this trope, which makes it funnier.
  • Portal Picture: Jerry is seemingly drawn into a black & white sketch for the final dance number.
  • Pretty in Mink: Milo, with a fur muff, a white mink cape, and a wrap of black and white fox.
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • All those people at the fancy ball, and no one managed to buy a costume that isn't black & white. Even Adam is wearing monochromatic cowboy gear. This is to set up Jerry's entry into the dream world, which is exploding with color.
    • The film famously ends with a 17-minute jazz-classical ballet set against a backdrop of famous French paintings... that takes place entirely in Jerry's head. Even though the scene's a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment, it still somewhat serves as a symbol. Jerry's dream sequence is pretty much his way of dealing with his sadness over losing Lise, as well as his frustrations about his painting career. It's a fantasy world he creates to cope with his unfortunate reality, using vast, vibrant color. The ballet sequence is Jerry's method for blowing off some emotional steam.
    • If the ballet symbolizes Jerry's grief over losing Lise, then the red rose that bookends the ballet is a symbol within a symbol. The brilliant red flower represents the elusiveness and fragility of love. Just like love, the red rose is beautiful, and Jerry finds it when he least expects it. It appears out of nowhere, and then Jerry spends his entire dream dance-chasing it across Paris. The connection between love, Lise, and flowers extends beyond the red rose, too. At one point during the ballet, Jerry dances with Lise in his arms only to have her disappear and be replaced by an enormous bouquet of flowers that Jerry lets fall to the ground. Basically, love is fleeting and extremely difficult to hold on to.
    • When we first meet Lise, via of Henri's description of her to Adam, Henri portrays Lise as a complex young lady. She's elegant and refined, but sultry and seductive. She's adventurous and modern, but nerdy and bookish. She's basically a woman with a multifaceted personality, a young woman whose complexity is the source of her nontraditional beauty. As Henri rattles off different personalities — elegance, passion, dorkiness, and so on — we see Lise firsthand. Each time Henri's description changes so does Lise's costume. Each of Lise's outfits symbolizes a different facet of her temperament. Her threads demonstrate and reinforce her complexity. At least they do for Henri, since Lise's symbolic fashion show takes place in his imagination.
  • Self-Duplication: Adam's fantasy sequence. It starts off with Adam, alone in his apartment, staring at the ceiling. Then the scene dissolves into a rather bizarre moment where Adam is on a dark stage, all by himself, performing what we believe to be his own music. Then the camera pulls back to reveal the other members of the band—all Adam, performing each individual instrument in perfect harmony. Then the conductor, flawlessly driving the band's actions, is yet another Adam. All the Adams continue to play, reaching a crescendo and thusly concluding the piece to thunderous applause. The scene gets weirder as it reveals that all the audience members, every single one of them, are Adam. It promptly fades to black, without incident, and gets back to the plot as though nothing has happened. Here it is.
  • Sensational Staircase Sequence: One of the most memorable in cinema, courtesy of Georges Guétary dancing up a lighted staircase to George Gershwin's "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise".
  • Sliding Scale of Fourth Wall Hardness: The A Simple Girl scene, where Henri is describing what Lise is like to Adam, falls on the Completely Solid Fourth Wall area. No acknowledgment of the audience, but every time Henri changes his mind about Lise, everything, from the music, to the environment, to even Lise's costume and the way she dances, changes in order to reflect his viewpoint. This Is Reality is definitely in full effect.
  • Spit Take: Adam spills his coffee down his front when he learns the name of Jerry's crush. He orders some brandy in reaction, only to spill that when Henri declares that he's engaged to the same girl. When Henri and Jerry obliviously start swapping love tales of Lise, Adam really starts to hit the sauce.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Jerry, arguably. He introduced himself to Lise by conning her into a dance, pretending to be an old acquaintance in front of her friends. He even shows up at Lise's place of work, despite her repeatedly telling him to buzz off. On the opposite end, we have Milo, who is trying her damnedest to make Jerry love her.
  • Starving Artist: Jerry's loft puts Elwood Blues to shame. Every piece of furniture is a fold-away.
  • Straight to the Pointe: Leslie Caron does plenty of this in many balletic scenes.
  • Title Drop: The opening voiceover. "This is Paris. And I'm an American who lives here."
  • Trrrilling Rrrs: "But mark my words, dear lady, this word will soon rrrrrring with the name of Mulligan. Picasso will be known as the forerunner of Mulligan. This tree will be famous for being painted by Mulligan."
  • Wife Husbandry: Henri knew Lise when she was a child, and served as her guardian after her parents were killed in World War II. He claims he didn't romance her until she came back years later.


Video Example(s):


An American in Paris

In his representation of the bustling city, George Gershwin included taxi horns in his score.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / EverythingIsAnInstrument

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