(On DVD, January 2018) I’m annoyed that I don’t like Gigi more than I do. After all, at first glance, it should work much better than it does—it’s a big-budget musical that manages to affect a cynical view of romances before going back to classical values right in time for the ending. Set in early-20th century Paris, Gigi takes on the courtesan culture and makes it shine as an entirely acceptable alternative for young women who can’t be bothered by traditional life paths. In other hands, it could have been a playful, insightful way to poke fun at the conventions of musicals. Alas, this Oscar-award-winning movie makes a few missteps along the way and really doesn’t leave a good impression. Things get off on a now-terrifying wrong foot as the movie begins with an older man signing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” essentially making a case that young girls are awesome because they’ll grow up to be sexy women worth sleeping with. Eeeeeeeeek. (Contemporary restaging of Gigi wisely give the song to the elderly courtesan character, which is only marginally less icky but still an improvement.) Too bad for Maurice Chevalier, who’s otherwise quite charming and likable as an older playboy who’s come to his senses—thematically, his “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore” is the kind of topic I wish was covered more often in pop culture. Other bad touches abound, such as a jocular way of looking at the male protagonist earning his “first suicide attempt” from a jilted ex-lover. Given this far more adult take on romantic musicals, what’s perhaps most damning about Gigi is the way it may present itself at an edgy film but ultimately (and predictably) fall back on rote values in time for its ending. It simply doesn’t have the guts to follow its early contrarian impulses. As a result, it ends up as a muddled piece of work—too cynical to be mindlessly enjoyable, but ultimately unsatisfying for not forging its own path. Taken as individual musical numbers, it’s still often visually spectacular and impressive in the way only classic MGM musicals could be. (My favourite anecdote about the film is that the day following Gigi’s Best Picture Oscar win, MGM receptionists answered the phone with “M-Gigi-M”) But—wow—has the film aged badly in some crucial ways.
(On DVD, January 2018) I’ll be the first to admit that classic musicals aren’t for everyone, but there’s a fun quality to An American in Paris that makes it irresistible. From the pleasantly idealized portrait of post-war Paris to witty musical numbers that acknowledge their own nature as musical numbers, this is a fun, not particularly deep but rather enjoyable musical. It won an Oscar, but it feels considerably less substantial than you’d expect—just a few Americans having fun in a glossy version of Paris, wooing girls and getting into all sorts of dance numbers. Gene Kelly is fantastic in the lead role (he also brought his distinctive touch to the film’s choreography, including the spectacular but rather long standout ballet sequence at the end of the film), with Leslie Caron simply being adorable as the romantic ideal, and Oscar Levant as comic relief. While An American in Paris is notable for its extended ballet sequence that makes much of the film’s last half-hour, I found it long and disconnected from the rest of the film—of course, that’s the point. And it’s impressive to see Kelly make ballet not only accessible to movie audiences, but actually fun. Still, I like other moments of the film better—The “black-and-white” party sequence is visually memorable, and the sequence in which Henri first describes the heroine of the film is a delight. I can never say enough good things about Kelly, the colours are bright, the atmosphere is delightful and as an example of the height of MGM’s musical comedy era it’s about as good a representation of the form as possible—I like Singin’ in the Rain a lot more, but there’s a difference between a solid example of the form and something that completely transcends it. The exemplar should not feel slighted for not being exceptional.