Stuck in the Middle
Just like Britney, Gigi's not a girl, not yet a woman.
But, uh, unlike Britney, Gigi seems completely innocent at first—she has no idea what's in store for her. When we meet her, she's like any young schoolgirl, holding onto the fun, carefree parts of kid-hood and not thinking much about her future.
Unfortunately for Gigi, her future is being engineered for her by her aunt and grandmother. She's being trained to be a courtesan—the mistress of a wealthy man, or a series of wealthy men, most likely. It's the family business. She has to be schooled in the ways of polite society, so she can be a rich man's companion and be seen in all the right places. She'll be expected to provide sexual services, although that's not made too explicit to her.
Tutored every Tuesday in womanly ways by her Aunt Alicia, an aging shut-in glamazon, Gigi crunches through bird bones at dinner, learns how to properly pour coffee and evaluate cigars, and discovers why very rich men don't give expensive jewelry just to impress. Gigi's not the greatest student; she can't see the point in all these silly pretensions. It's not until her fate is presented to her in the person of her good buddy Gaston that she puts these lessons to use.
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
Most of scenes in the film show us Gigi as a warm, energetic, fun-loving kid. She bounces around in the park, cuts class, doesn't care how she dresses, laughs all the time, and giggles in the surf with Gaston. She's totally uninterested in love and thinks it's hilarious and confusing that it's all grownups think about.
GIGI: You would think it would embarrass/all the people here in Paris/to be thinking every minute of love!
She's totally genuine and unpretentious. When her aunt tries to teach her to be graceful and womanly, she's just the opposite: she drops the coffeepot, gulps wine, and breaks cigars. We're supposed to think: she's just a kid! Stop with the nonsense! Gigi finds it all a colossal waste of time.
Gigi's lack of refinement is what Gaston likes about her. He's had it with society types—they're all the same and it bores him to death. He treats Gigi like his little sister, clowning around with her and playfully threatening to spank her when she gets snippy. She adores him, too, but there's no hint that she sees him as anything but an older brother, fun to hang out with but a little ridiculous with all his parties and girlfriends. She seems totally oblivious to what her future's supposed to hold. Or is she?
During her courtesan lessons with Aunt Alicia, there's this little exchange:
AUNT ALICIA: What friends have you made?
GIGI: None. I'm always on my own.
GIGI: Why does grandmama stop me from accepting invitations?
AUNT ALICIA: She's right for once. You'd only be invited by ordinary people.
GIGI: What about us? Aren't we ordinary people? Why are we different?
AUNT ALICIA: They have weak heads and careless bodies. Besides, they are married. But I don't think you would understand.
GIGI: Oh yes, Auntie, I understand. We don't marry, is that it?
Poor Gigi. She's isolated because all her schoolmate's parents are probably respectable married folks who probably don't want their daughters to hang out with the children of courtesans. She does have Gaston to play with, so she's doubly excited when he visits. He brings her treats and stories about his life, but he's really the only friend she has.
Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon
Gigi gets Gaston to promise to take her to the beach if she beats him at cards. Of course she beats him—the plot requires it—and they head off to the beach for a good time in the surf and sun. People start noticing and gossiping about how the two of them are cavorting around, which makes her aunt and grandmother think they need to speed up her training—who knows, maybe Gaston is really interested in her. It would be disastrous for Gigi's reputation if she was seen with Gaston without a proper "arrangement"
The next time Gaston's at her apartment, Gigi's in a grown-up dress her aunts picked out for her. It's like playing dress-up for her
GIGI: Look, Gaston. Four yards of material in the skirt. Well, don't I look great ladyish?
Gaston thinks she looks ridiculous, but after he leaves he realizes that she did look pretty good in the new dress, and he comes back to apologize and invite her to tea. This is the turning point for Gigi—everyone starts looking at her differently. Gaston sees her as date material, and Mamita and Alicia see her as mistress material. None of this, however, involves seeing Gigi as grown up enough to make her own decisions. Everyone starts making plans for Gigi about where her life will be going next. Gigi gets sent to her room to wait.
Gaston leaves after Mamita tells him to put up or shut up—he can't date Gigi without a formal arrangement; it would ruin her reputation. He's disgusted with the idea that everyone's not jumping at the chance to let Gigi date him, but it's all good. While he's sulking in the park, he has his revelation that Gigi's grown from an awkward little girl to a sensuous woman. He makes her an offer she can't refuse.
Hear Me Roar
But guess what—she refuses the offer. Because guess what else? Gigi understands more than we thought.
GIGI: You told Grandmama that you wanted to take care of me.
GASTON: To take care of you beautifully.
GIGI: Beautifully. That is, if I like it. They've pounded into my head that I'm backward for my age…but I know what all this means. To take care of me beautifully means I shall go away with you and that I shall sleep in your bed.
When Gaston wants to avoid the topic, she lets him have it:
GIGI: But I know more than she told me. To take care of me means that I shall have my photograph in the papers. That I shall go to the Riviera. To the races at Deauville. And when we fight, it will be in all the columns the next day.
Gaston's getting more and more uncomfortable by the second. Gigi tells him she knows what he's all about:
GIGI: It's not your fault that you're world famous. It's just that I haven't got a world famous sort of nature. When it's over, Gaston Lachaille goes off with another lady. And I only have to go into another gentleman's bed. That won't do for me. I'm not changeable. That won't do for me. Grandmama and Aunt Alicia are on your side, but this concerns me too. And I think I should have something to say about it. And what I say is, it won't work. It won't work.
What a cheeky child—to think she should have some say in her own future. Gaston can't believe it. Gigi makes her own suggestion: maybe they could continue to be friends and just spend more time together so no one suspects anything more. He can come over and bring her candy and it would be a fun life. Just one problem with that, says Gaston:
GASTON: A wonderful little life. Except you forget one thing: I'm in love with you.
Gigi stands her ground. She loves Gaston, too, but she's seen how he operates.
GIGI: You are a wicked man! You're in love with me, and you want to drag me into a life that will make me suffer! You think nothing of exposing me to all sorts of terrible adventures…ending in quarrels, separations, pistol shots, Sandomirs, and poison!
But after this strong stand, Gigi caves to the pressure. She tells Gaston she'd rather be miserable with him than without him. How's that for a ringing endorsement? It's a sad scene—she tells him, then retreats to her room. She feels defeated by society's expectations of her. If being Gaston's mistress is the only way she can have him, then, well, it'll have to be that way.
Playing the Game
Gigi dutifully goes on a date with Gaston, but is scared to death. Not to worry—the crowd at Maxim's freezes and gasps when they walk in. She's gorgeous in an off-the-shoulder white gown. She plays the part, ooh-ing and aah-ing over the bracelet he gives her, sniffing his cigar, gossiping about the other diners at Maxims.
GIGI: Gaston, that's beautiful! They're simply beautiful! Oh, what a color! Only the most beautiful emeralds contain that miracle of elusive blue!
Gigi doesn't quite pull off the Aunt Alicia wannabe thing, and Gaston knows it. After Honoré congratulates him on his latest amusing conquest, he realizes he's ruining Gigi and drags her from the restaurant. Gigi's confused.
GIGI: I don't understand. What's wrong? It's too early to go home yet. I thought I was doing so well. What's the matter? I don't want to go home yet! Please, Gaston. Gaston, won't you tell me what I've done wrong?
Mamita's surprised to see a distraught Gigi dumped back in the apartment. But surprise turns to shock when Gaston returns and asks to marry Gigi. Gigi's insistence on being herself has paid off. When we last see her, she's in a fancy carriage in the park with Gaston, looking every bit the elegant lady but still her exuberant, teasing self.
Gigi didn't have to compromise. Her "growing up before [Gaston's] eyes" wasn't putting on a fancy dress and passing for a lady at Maxim's. It was learning to speak up on her own behalf, cut through all the BS, and tell it like it is.
Is this a feminist film after all?