American Gigolo (1980)

This is a hard one. I debated whether to even post on it, actually, because it’s not that great of a film. But I suppose I can still glean a little something from it. If not, what am I doing here?

I’d like to start out with the absurdities of the characterization of Julian (Richard Gere). Julian is presented as a high-rolling gigolo, able to speak “five or six” languages (though he doesn’t even affect an accent when he’s speaking French), able to spend three hours bringing the aging Mrs. Represseds out of their sexual shells. He is someone who has all the right connections at all the classy L.A. restaurants and bars, and he is the “only one” who can get into the most exclusive country clubs in L.A.  That’s wonderful. Truly wonderful. But as I’m sitting there watching it unfold, I’m wondering to myself about a few things: why is prostitution being glamourized, why does Julian have so much credibility, and with so many “return-tricks” in high society, how is Julian not caught/ how are all the women he is hired by not shamed by their associations with him (they all seem to know who else he hooks up with)? He’s just that cool, I guess.

He’s also cool enough to school Detective Sunday (Hector Elizondo) in the art of dressing up for the ladies, and the Detective even listens to his advice. I’m just wondering about the reality of a high-class hooker maintaining his ethos with so many people in this way. My point is that it’s just not that believable. He’s a “whore,” as the Senator points out.

Speaking of the Senator, one of the scenes that really bothered me was the scene at the country club when Julian confronts the Senator (or vice versa). If you notice, it is the Senator who goes after Julian; it is the Senator who follows Julian around, not vice versa. One would think that a Senator wouldn’t be the one to go following a gigolo around like a puppy dog whining about his wife. I suppose this scene both disappointed me and reinforced the message being conveyed about Julian: that he has something about him that sets him “above” the norm. He even says to Detective Sunday at one point that there are some people who are “above the law.” I suppose he was referencing himself. But, as the narrative progressed to the climax of the story (I would categorize this as the scenes dealing with his realization that the jewels were planted in his car, leading up to the confrontation with Leon), the viewer is treated to a classic peripatetic moment.

Julian’s true reversal of fortune was when he actually kills someone. Up until that point, he hadn’t done anything wrong. He was being set up, and then it went terribly wrong.  Poor Julian.

I suppose the biggest let-down of this film was that in the final scene, when he is across the jailhouse glass from Michelle (Lauren Hutton), and she says she told the truth so she could be his alibi for the night of the murder, the film ends awkwardly with Julian’s sappy comment about not believing he had to come this far to get to her. Gag me with a spoon. Not only is there no resolution to the case itself, nor the general problems associated with a Senator’s wife dating a gigolo, but the viewer is left with the message that ‘love conquers all’ or something like that.

I’m too smart for that.

Rather than ‘love conquers all,’ this film says to me: it’s okay to be a whore if you’re public image portrays an air of higher class.  I mean, Julian technically ‘tricked’ in not only the “clean” environs of the country club ladies and the Senator’s wife, but also in the very bizarro worlds of Leon and Mr./Mrs. Rheiman (she did not look truly conscious to me when he had that encounter), and yet he did it anyway.  So, all the glamour of the suits and the stereos and the Mercedez Benz can’t possibly balance out against the sometimes gruesome service he is performing for money.

I guess I’m failing to see the overall point of this film. I think they were trying to say it’s hip to be a gigolo. But then I also think they were saying even gigolos get the blues. When all is said and done, I think Paul Schrader and Jerry Bruckheimer could’ve made a better film with what they had.

Though it does remind me of that old jazz standard, “Just a Gigolo”:  “when the end comes I know they’ll say I’m just a gigolo…life goes on without me….” (I’m thinking of the Marty Grosz version).

2 thoughts on “American Gigolo (1980)

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