I wrote a post years ago about the problems I have with the movie. One person commented that it was her favorite and I felt awful and deleted the post. I kind of regret that now. If I were talking to a person and they said, "My favorite movie in the whole world is Gigi," I wouldn't launch into a tirade about how problematic it is. I would say, "oh, yes. She's such a great character!" or "oh, Louis Jourdan is so dreamy!" Both of these would be true and it would be a polite response. So, if you do love that movie and feel sad reading criticisms of it, it will not hurt my feelings if you close the post and read something else.
That said, here is my opinion of Gigi. The acting is brilliant. The songs are fantastic. The sets are beautiful. The costumes are gorgeous. I want Gigi's hair. Louis Jourdan is dreamy. Gigi is a truly magnificent character. The all around art direction is incredible.
It is my opinion that the storyline is quite terrible and indicative of a truly awful trend in Hollywood in particular and our society as a whole. Now, when I rewatched the movie yesterday, I did notice that the movie is pretty self-aware in some respects; it knows that it's dealing with a tricky plot. Be that as it may, it's still about a very young girl (about 16 or 17) who is courted by a much older man (about 30). I say the word "courted" because that's how the guy introducing the movie put it. To be fair, I do need to read the novella the movie is based on. However, it's very much about the sexualization of a girl and her purpose as a source of entertainment for a man.
The very first song of the movie, "Thank heaven for little girls," is, I think, meant to be cute and charming. But, to me, it comes across as seeing the sexual potential in little girls and knowing that they'll please men someday. I hate it. Gaston's frequent complaints about being bored culminate in the title song when he discovers that he was never once bored when he was with Gigi. Thank god she'll be able to entertain him. Now, the line his uncle says in Maxim's, "she will amuse you for months" is a nice ending to that character development. I like to see that moment when Gaston clears out with Gigi as his realization that this is how he has been viewing her too and he is disgusted by his own behavior. It might actually be that he's disgusted by his uncle's opinion. I'm not sure. But I'll see it in the former perspective because he needs some redeeming qualities. As we were walking out of the theater, my roommate pointed out that it bothered him how elegant and refined she was as a wife - she had lost all of her energy and personality after marriage. I had never noticed that before but it bothers me now too!
I could go into more details about my frustrations with the movie. I really do have many. But, the reason I dislike it so much is that our society continues to sexualize girls. We continue to see them as playthings, as objects. They hit puberty and bam! They're eligible for harassment of every variety. In a musical comedy, it's seen as ok, because it's in France and in the 1800s. But it's still about a man seeing a girl grow up to be a very young woman and instantly try to make it work to his benefit.
I will say that the main thing that makes this movie work at all for me is Gigi, herself. She really is probably one of my favorite characters in a movie. The more I watch the movie, the more I like her. She's smart, she's completely comfortable with herself, she's confident in her ability to make good decisions, she's brave, she's honest. I love that she is aware of what she's being tailored to become. I love that she tells Gaston that he has terrible taste in clothes when he starts criticizing her new dress and refuses to apologize when told to do so. I love that she turns Gaston down when he asks her to be his mistress because she knows she could never be happy. I love that she's smart enough to look beyond the allure of a nice house, servants, a car, jewels, clothes, travel - to realize that it will end eventually and then she'll be shuffled off to someone else to do it all again. I love how angry she gets when he tells her he's in love with her because she has a much better understanding of what love is than he does. I love that when she finally decides to agree to his offer after all, she does it flawlessly. I think she's such an incredible character and Leslie Caron performs her role perfectly.
I feel as though being a classic film lover in a modern world can be challenging. Not only for the oft-lamented, "they just don't make them like they used to" and trying to reference movies that no one has seen - but also because we love movies made in a time of different values and different standards. I struggle with the fact that I love Errol Flynn movies but know that Errol Flynn was not a particularly good person. I struggle with the fact that Gigi holds the record for the most Academy Awards given to a musical and is a romance about a girl marrying a man twice her age. I struggle with the fact that Fred Astaire's romantic partners were cast progressively younger the older he got (see also: Cary Grant). That's not to say these aren't problems in today's movies. But, today, there are articles written about it. People boycott the movies. And there is, at least, an awareness. I feel as though the movie industry is (very, very slowly) adapting to society's evolving expectations. But, movies from the past cannot be adapted. And I can't throw them aside even though I know better.
I told a friend this once and she suggested donating or volunteering to a good cause if I feel guilty about watching Errol Flynn movies. So, in light of that very good suggestion, here are some good causes to donate to if you would like to help young girls become more than sexualized, objectified tools in a man's world:
Girls Not Brides - working to end child brides
60 Million Girls - working to educate girls around the world
The Girl Effect - working to help girls grow through creativity and expression