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Film / Gigi

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"Thank heaven for little girls
for little girls get bigger every day!
Thank heaven for little girls
they grow up in the most delightful way!"
Honoré Lachaille, singing the most famous number

A 1958 MGM musical film based on the 1944 novella by French author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, Gigi was directed by Vincente Minnelli and written by Lerner and Loewe, following their success with My Fair Lady. Starring Leslie Caron as the eponymous Gigi, Louis Jourdan as Gaston, and Maurice Chevalier as the narrator Honoré, the film won all of its nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, breaking the record set by Gone with the Wind.note 

In Paris during The Gay '90s, Gaston Lachaille is a rich young playboy who wants to break free from the stultifying traditions of his family. He finds refuge in his time with Madame Alvarez (Hermione Gingold) and her tomboyish granddaughter Gilberte, or "Gigi" for short; a sincere and happy teen being raised by her refined great-aunt Alicia and grandmother to be a wealthy man's courtesan. For quite a while, the two see each other as nothing more than good friends. Over time, however, Gaston comes to the realization that Gigi has grown up. Can he really bear to take her as his mistress in a transactional relationship?

Betty Wand filled in for most of Leslie Caron's singing.

Not to be confused with Gigli.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Dye-Job: In the novella Gigi has ash blonde hair and blue eyes. Both Audrey Hepburn (who played Gigi in the stage play) and Leslie Caron are brunettes, and Hepburn has brown eyes.
  • All-Knowing Singing Narrator: Honoré Lachaille.
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: Based on the eponymous novel by Colette, which had previously been adapted as a non-musical 1951 play starring a then-unknown Audrey Hepburn in the title role.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Honoré addressing the camera on multiple occasions.
  • Cool Old Guy: Honoré.
  • Costume Porn
  • Disappeared Dad: Gigi's father, never even mentioned. Given her mother and grandmother's professions his identity is probably dubious.
  • Fashion Show
  • The Film of the Book: Colette was an insanely successful writer in her day, beginning with the scandalous Claudine at School, written when she was about Gigi's age. Gigi was only one of her many, many bestsellers. Today, if it weren't for this film, she might be largely forgotten, at least by English speakers.note 
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Averted. While Gaston and Gigi go on maybe one date before the proposal, they've known each other for most of their lives, and have gone on several non-dates.
  • Fourth-Wall Observer: Honoré starts the film introducing the ins and outs of Parisian society and talks to the audience on several occasions; "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore" is sung as much for our benefit as his.
  • The Gay '90s: This film, its predecessor film and stage adaptations, and the original novella, are all dripping with nostalgie for la Belle Epoque.
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: Gigi's mother, who left the family tradition of prostitution to become an opera singer, and is occasionally heard off-stage, practicing her arpeggios.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Calling her a "courtesan" makes it sound nicer. What's amazing is that Gigi's grandmother and aunt look down on Gigi's mother for getting a job instead of following family tradition and becoming a fancy prostitute, though admittedly they're probably more condemning of the fact that said job brings in so little money. Remember that courtesans were a high step above ordinary prostitutes: they moved in distinguished circles, chose their own clients, maintained their own flats and could rake in a considerable fortune. Gigi's mother, by contrast, is "slaving away at the Opéra Comique in ridiculous little roles." Who can blame Grandmama for being annoyed?
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Gigi’s mother. Periodically throughout the movie Gigi’s mother is heard rehearsing for her shows and it’s clear that she cannot carry a tune.
  • Idle Rich: Gaston is so bored with life as an ultra-rich man in Paris that he has a whole number on the subject: "It's a Bore". His disinterest in such shallow living is what makes him seek out the genuine, good company of Mamita and Gigi, thus giving us the setting of the film.
  • Lessons in Sophistication: Aunt Alicia spends hours teaching Gigi such things as the proper way to eat lobster, and how to recognize the most expensive jewels.
  • Love Epiphany: Gaston has one for Gigi in the title song.
  • Loving Details: Parodied in the song "I Remember It Well." Honoré tries to convince Mamita that she's the love of his life by reciting details about their last evening together (before he cheated on her), but he gets them all wrong. She, on the other hand, remembers the details perfectly and corrects him each time he makes a mistake.
  • The Mistress: The role Gigi is being groomed for. Mamita prefers the term "courtesan."
  • One-Woman Song: "Gigi."
  • Parental Abandonment: Gigi's father is never mentioned—unless he is the "young man with all those flour mills" who her grandmother almost implies to be him (especially given Gigi's reaction when she says this)—and her mother "has neither the mind nor the inclination to take care of her," being absorbed by being a second-rate opera singer. Gigi was raised by her grandmother.
  • Parental Neglect: Gigi’s mother is an “aspiring” opera singer, whose entire life revolves around the theatre despite the fact that she cannot carry a tune. She left Gigi’s care and upbringing to Mamita, and was so involved in her own “career” that she completely remains oblivious to the drama going on in her daughter’s life. A poignant example being when Alicia and Mamita (great-aunt and grandmother) are discussing drama between Gigi and Baston, and Gigi’s mother is in the next room singing and not at all contributing to their conversation.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Given all the upper class characters, not to mention designed by the famous Cecil Beaton, several of these are worn throughout the film.
  • Popularity Cycle: Gigi tells Gaston she doesn't want to be his mistress. She knows, from the newspaper's tabloid headlines, that in such a relationship, Gaston would soon tire of her and move on to someone else, forcing Gigi to "crawl into another man's bed" to survive. She would become a permanent courtesan, just like Aunt Alicia. Later, though, she changes her mind, telling him, "I'd rather be miserable with you than without you." At the end, he realizes he wants the real, "slightly-untamed-Gigi" and asks to marry her.
  • Pretty in Mink: Gaston sees one of his girlfriends with another man. The girlfriend is wearing a gray fur wrap and hat.
  • Protagonist Title
  • Pygmalion Plot
  • Rich Boredom: Gaston (see Idle Rich above).
  • Rule of Symbolism: The film's symbolism is not exactly the most subtle usage in film.
    • Birds are everywhere in the film as a classic symbol of personal freedom and independence. In one significant appearance, Gigi's at lunch at Aunt Alicia's eating a poor tiny ortolan: a bird's been reduced to fodder for lessons on proper table manners, the same way Gigi's plucked from the beautiful park only to end up in her aunt's stuffy chambers getting ready to be eaten alive by society's plans for her. In another notable role, Gigi's delivering her angry screed against romance with "I Don't Understand the Parisians," and she throws herself against a wrought-iron park gate. Beyond her, a flock of birds fly across the sky. How's that for a cage-versus-freedom image? And for a third example, as Gaston begins to understand that he's falling for Gigi, he glides through the park, singing, "You're not at all the funny, awkward little girl I knew." In point, swans float by in a pond behind him. Plus swans partially mate for life.
    • The film's characters are constantly dashing up and down stairs. With each climb, the characters (Gaston, most of the time) go upstairs fueled by passion and go downstairs in anger or sadness. There's Gigi, red-faced after playing too long at the park, running up the steps up to her own apartment. There's Gaston, up and down constantly on the stairs to Madame Alvarez's, whether it's a regular social call or in some whipped-up love-fury. Even Aunt Alicia leaves her apartment (a rare occurrence), and charges up her sister's stairs after hearing about Gigi's unthinkable refusal of Gaston.
    • Usage of lush color is everywhere. The green of the Bois de Boulogne, deep reds of Mamita's house, Gigi's brightly-colored schoolgirl clothes, colorful dresses on the ladies at Maxim's all convey excitement and delight, even though they bore Gaston to death. You'll notice that the less sophisticated women and ladies of the demimonde dress in the brightest colors, while the haut monde (fashionable, respectable women) are more subdued. The women in the park are in white and pale pinks, while Gigi's first glam dress is elegant white. Liane's dress at Maxim's is garish, definitely a comment on what Gaston thinks of her—common and crass. Gigi's simple but gorgeous white gown lets us know that she's different from the other mistresses.
  • Running Gag: Gigi's mother, who never appears on-screen, is a chorus member in a comic opera company. Three times in the course of the movie she's heard practicing her vocal scales in another room, and each time someone else closes the door to block out the noise.
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: Got one of these in 1973.
  • She Is All Grown Up: The whole point of the plot, basically lampshaded in its title number.
  • Vague Age: It's never clear how old Gigi is meant to be. She dresses like a young girl (in particular she wears her hair down, which girls generally did until they were fifteen or sixteen), at times she seems remarkably childlike, and she's initially treated like a child by the other characters, but over the course of the film they gradually come to realize that Gigi has grown up and is more mature than they realized.
  • The Voice: As noted, Gigi's mother is just a voice practicing her scales off-camera.
  • Wham Line: "She'll keep you amused for months!"
    • This further deepens Gaston’s Love Epiphany as he realizes his affection for Gigi is significantly deeper than a shallow transactional relationship of courtesan and benefactor. Not to mention, something similar to a Berserk Button goes off here as he can’t stand other people thinking so flippantly of, and meeting at, Gigi. Perhaps Green-Eyed Monster?
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: When Liane dramatically tries to kill herself for attention after Gaston dumps her, it's front-page news.
    • According to Aunt Alicia, this attention ploy is ridiculously common.