Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | July 14th, 2022
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (Anthony Fabian, 2022) 1½ out of 4 stars.
Enjoyable though parts of it may be, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris—an adaptation of Paul Gallico’s eponymous 1958 novel—traffics in too much forced and facile sentiment to ultimately leave any kind of lasting impression. Stories about outsiders taking on exclusive systems are nothing new, though the details of their struggle change with the retelling. “Struggle” is the key word here, however, as it seems distressingly missing from this serio-comic dramedy. Though the titular character has the odds stacked against her, she somehow manages to succeed with nary a bump in the road. Call me a Scrooge, but bah humbug.
The faults of the narrative in no way lie with lead actress Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread), who brings Mrs. Harris to life with vim and much vigor. She’s what used to be called in England a “charwoman,” which is someone who cleans houses. A war widow who only just now (in the late 1950s) receives an official notice from the British government confirming her husband’s death during World War II, she has a peaceful-enough existence with a stable roster of clients, most of whom manage to pay her and all of whom take her completely for granted. She also has a Black best friend, a cinematic trope that is old as they come. At least Ellen Thomas (Golden Years) invests that character, Vi, with oodles of charm, so there’s that.
One day, in the home of an aristocrat (Anna Chancellor, The Happy Prince) who can never remember to pay her, Mrs. Harris spies a Christian Dior dress that sends her into rapturous convulsions. There’s no particular reason for it beyond its beauty and the fact that director Anthony Fabian (Good Hope) insists on her interest, but as a plot device it serves a purpose by sending our protagonist off to Paris, where she hopes to buy her own Dior gown using money she has both saved and won in a raffle. Let the adventure begin.
Right from the get-go, folks bend over backwards to help her, so inspired are they by the notion of a working-class woman following a dream. That’s lovely, but not particularly engaging; it’s not that the vision isn’t clear, but that her path is smoothed by everyone’s good intentions, no matter how occasionally condescending. At least there is the great Isabelle Huppert (Elle) to play the Dior office manager who does not succumb to Mrs. Harris’ ostensible charisma. Good for her!
There are twists, and I assume they honor the original source material, that improve what is otherwise a predictable journey. But no matter the efforts of the supporting cast—which also includes Alba Baptista (Netflix’s Warrior Nun series), Lucas Bravo (Netflix’s Emily in Paris series), Jason Isaacs (Skyfire), and Lambert Wilson (De Gaulle)—the shenanigans are mostly tedious and trite. And don’t get me started on the way the script treats intellectuals (“Oh, you read Sartre, too! Wow!”). All in all, then, despite the few moments of genuine emotion and fun, it’s a fairly dull affair.