If you haven’t indulged in any format of this lovely work, let me warn you: You’re going to be conflicted.
An American in Paris is a lovely piece of art, any way you consume it, but as a female in the year 2016, I couldn’t help but cringe. (And I’m the type of person who lets anachronisms go, because it’s not like they knew any better when they were making the movies, sheesh!)
The cringing mostly happened whilst watching the movie, which I did in preparation for seeing the play. The movie will make you fall in love with Gene Kelly, no matter your gender or sexual preference. He’s deliciously charming and talented and graceful. Watching him perform throughout the movie, I felt exactly like the woman in the background of this screenshot, which is to say, delirious because my smile was too big. (Here’s the full scene, by the way.)
Anyway. If you think about Gene Kelly and his character, aspiring artist Jerry Mulligan, too much, that’s when things start to get unsettling. See, Kelly was around 40 when he played Mulligan, and the girl he was going after was … let’s say too young. Lise (Leslie Caron) is beautiful and intriguing and doe-eyed and all that, but the age gap is too great to be sweet. And Mulligan, for all his attempted sweetness, is also pretty damn pushy as he’s courting her. I didn’t feel that Jerry and Lise were in love, because I never really saw them together in a way that made me think so. The entire time they were living in a fantasy — which, yes, is the point of the movie — but their love seemed based on nothing at all. Superficially, though, they seem to have a nice time together.
Meanwhile, the story gets tragic for other characters. Jerry straight-up steals Lise from his friend, Henri (Georges Guetary), who is engaged to her. And he jilts Patricia Clarkson lookalike Milo (Nina Foch), his sugar mama, essentially. And then there’s ol’ Adam (Oscar Levant), because everyone needs a bitter musician friend to boost their ego. Adam was my favorite part of the movie — besides the incredible dancing, the Gershwin tunes and the insane black-and-white party they all attended — because he seemed to be the only one with any clarity and logic to his thinking.
The play clears up a lot of the movie’s ambiguity, though Jerry and Lise’s relationship still seems pretty tenuous. In the Broadway production I saw — which was lovely and mesmerizing in its own way — all three men are after Lise, and we meet Henri’s parents as a way of gaining more insight into her ingenue background. She’s an aspiring dancer in the play, too, and a confirmed Jew who’s forever indebted to Henri’s family for getting her out of a bad spot. She’s got actual loyalty to deal with, rather than an overwhelming sense of proto-MPDG, which seems to be her sole motivation in the movie. Her dilemma of which man to choose — Jerry or Henri, because even though Adam is given a shot, he never really had one in the first place — seems grounded in reality.
So here’s what I’ll say. Both are worth taking in, at the very least for the divine spectacle of choreography to Gershwin soundtrack. You know all these songs, but you may not have known that they were from this movie. They’re timeless, even if the production itself is starting to show its age.