July 15th, 2022
MOVIE: MRS HARRIS GOES TO PARIS
STARRING: LESLEY MANVILLE, JASON ISAACS, ISABELLE HUPPERT, ALBA BAPTISTA, LUCAS BRAVO
DIRECTED BY: ANTHONY FABIAN
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
If you’re going to see Mrs Harris Goes to Paris this weekend you should be prepared to smile…a lot. I am talking about smiling till your face hurts, especially from holding that smile too long, clenching your neck, and consuming a ravishing experience. Similar to Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, it’s hard to dislike a film with such a delightful lead character- the titled Mrs Harris, played by a plucky and genuine Lesley Manville, as a recently widowed woman just looking for a chance to treat herself. It’s the 1950’s and after Ada Harris learns about her husband’s passing from the war and sees a Christian Dior dress in the closet of a house she cleans, it’s here where she decides she has to have one of her own. What ensues is a lovely escape, where the kindness of strangers wins over the smugness of wealthy Parisians. Mrs Harris Goes to Paris is darling and delightful, making for a perfect summer fit.
From the jump, it’s the performance from Manville that propels Mrs Harris Goes to Paris, portraying a character with a heart of gold, and someone that has been pushed around in life. She spends her day cleaning houses, from the wealthy to the middle class, never begging for her payment to be on time, and the heart of an angel. Her friends are Vi (Ellen Thomas) and Archie (Jason Isaacs), always looking out for one another, and carefree to enjoy a night out dancing together. But then Ada finally receives notice that her husband has died in the war and after years of being pushed around by her employers, she wants to do something grand for herself. The goal becomes easier when Ada wins the lotto and receives back-taxes from the time her husband had been missing, so the first thing she does is take the next bus from England to Paris. She doesn’t know the procedure at first, as she’s greeted by employees at Dior- some who see her as less- but as she reveals that she has cash now, ready to buy herself a dress whatever it takes, the collection of Dior employees help her along the way.
As far as a villain goes, the closest they have is Isabelle Huppert’s Claudine, a manager at Dior and views Mrs Harris as far from their kind of clientele they pamper at couture designer. This is more or less the major set of conflict, as the cutting and seamstress work on the dress keeps Ada in Paris for much longer than expected. She tells herself it’s worth it for the once in a lifetime dress, and along the way she connects with new friends, such as the charming aristocrat Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson), Dior employee Andre (Lucas Bravo), and the supermodel face of Dior in Natasha (Alba Baptista). With the introduction of each new character we see a moment for Ada to reveal her golden heart, cleaning for Natasha or instilling a sense of positivity that tends to be eroded by cynicism. Throughout there’s a sense of dread lingering in the air, waiting for something to go wrong that could stop Ada from getting her dress, but that revelation is for the audience to experience.
The direction by Anthony Fabian is right in the wheel-house of delightful crowd-pleasers, similar to the vein of Florence Foster Jenkins or other various films from Stephen Frears, but it’s also a fascinating companion to Manville’s other designer clothing drama Phantom Thread. The screenplay is cut together by Fabian, Carroll Cartwright, Keith Thompson, and Olivia Hetreed, adapted from the novel by Paul Gallico; And it blends the earnest charm of the lead character, gentle humor, and fancy production value. But it’s the clothing that plays the supporting role to Manville’s excellent performance, which is designed by Jenny Beavan, and helps grasp that attraction to what makes high fashion so special.
If there are flaws in the fabric of Mrs Harris Goes to Paris it’s that it can be too cute, a bit mushy, and sappy, but even then I was already won over. This is a movie that leaves us beaming with joy, highlighting the delightful work of Lesley Manville, and giving us a lovely reminder to be kind to everyone. Nobody is above us, below us, and everyone deserves to wear high fashion clothing. Mrs Harris Goes to Paris is a bright joyful trip in the city of lights.
MRS HARRIS GOES TO PARIS IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS FRIDAY JULY 15TH, 2022
Written by: Leo Brady