Gigi (1958)

Gigi PosterI’ve always said that when you’re a rich guy who gets bored with the endless parties, the mistress of the week, and the decision making that goes into what new country estate to purchase, the only thing that can snap you out of your rut is an affair with an underage girl.

While society would no doubt cast aspersions on us common folk if we pursued such a course of conduct, it’s really the only way the incredibly wealthy can assure themselves that they’re getting a gal full of life and untainted by all the gold digging that goes on with the ladies in their social strata who are eighteen years old and up. Besides, as shown in this movie, it really isn’t that much of a stretch to buy some child-bride a bunch of jewels when you’ve already spent much of her adolescence plying her with caramels and trips to the sea shore. May as well make it legal. Or at least as legal as it’s ever going to be.

Lest you think that your own narrow-minded morals will prevent you from enjoying this celebration of pedophilia, you should know that director Vincente Minnelli presents it all with a lush veneer of color and good cheer so even though you’re inclined to be grossed out when Gaston threatens to spank Gigi for some childish smart mouthing, you can tune out this dirty old man and just enjoy the French scenery.

Oh, and you had to know that this all went down in France. The France in this movie is a France where every rich guy around is squiring a different girlfriend just about every week, so it makes sense that at some point the male population would have to work their way down to fourteen year olds. Now, to be fair to the film, I don’t believe that it ever specifies how old Gigi is supposed to be, but we first meet her in the park running around giggling with her schoolmates. Here’s a tip for the French: that’s called recess.

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It was those opening scenes in the park when I first began to get an inkling that something was up with this movie. Having read the back of the DVD, I had the impression that this was one of those love stories where some uncouth tomboy was going to win the heart of a rich guy by learning how to walk the catwalk in sexy high heels like all real women do. Of course by the end of things, she would realize that you just have to be yourself and your rich boyfriend would still love you. (As long as you still had your hot makeover!)

I didn’t know that the “girlish gawkishness” referred to on the DVD was to be taken literally! In any case, the old dog Honore Lachaille (Maurice Chevalier from In Search of the Castaways) talks about how he likes to collect beautiful things, but not antiques and the next thing I know, he’s eyeing Gigi and her schoolgirl friends and singing “Thank Heaven For Little Girls!” Shoot, thank heaven for child sex offender registries, Honore!

This movie has class though and so it is that the elderly Honore isn’t the one who is going to be romancing Gigi. That duty falls to his nephew, Gaston. Gaston hangs out with Honore, debating their different approaches to life in between parties and luncheons. Whereas Honore finds everything about their glamorous lifestyle to be exciting, Gaston is bored by it all.

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Why, he would rather just go over to Gigi’s house and play cards with her (even though she’s a bad girl and cheats all the time!) and have dinner with her grandma. Gaston doesn’t realize it yet, but those evenings of playing with her My Little Pony collection and doing Shrinky Dinks with her are going to lead him out of his rich malaise!

The movie follows both Gaston and Gigi as they navigate their respective roles in French high society. Gaston has to contend with his current girlfriend who cheats on him with her ice skating instructor. Plenty of funny scenes with Honore advising Gaston on what course of action to take with an eye towards saving face follow and when Gaston’s ex-girlfriend pretends to commit suicide (her own way of saving face) Honore and Honore’s butler congratulate Gaston on his first suicide!

Honore immediately suggests that Gaston make the rounds in Paris all week long so that everyone will know he’s unaffected by this. For her part, Gigi is getting lessons on how to be a proper young lady from her grandmother’s sister and this involves the usual sorts of things like how to eat fancy little birds, how to pour coffee and how to sit in chairs. (You don’t simply sit in the chair, you “insinuate” into the chair, you heathen!)

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After a trip to the seaside with Gigi, Gaston realizes that he’s in love with her. He’s conflicted about this because, you know, she’s a freaking kid, and he tries to reconcile his feelings about her in a nice scene that has him strolling around a park singing about how on the one hand she’s really hot, but on the other hand she still likes to play with Lite Brite.

There are times during the movie when Gigi (Leslie Caron) doesn’t look like a kid at all, but more like the 27 years that Leslie really was when she made the movie, but there are also plenty of icky moments when she’s pouting or whatever when she seems every bit the underage piece of jail bait she’s supposed to be playing. How Leslie didn’t get one of the nine Oscars this thing snagged back in 1958, I’ll never know.

In spite of its questionable premise, the movie is a funny look at the empty lifestyles of the rich and famous and Caron is certainly a winning presence. For the most part, the songs are fine and actually are used to move the story along instead of stopping the movie in its tracks just so a big production number can be inserted. You should have a good time watching this movie as long you pretend that Gigi is at least eighteen. (Convicted sex offenders should consult their probation officers as to whether they are prohibited from the viewing this film by state and/or federal law.)

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