I usually avoid movies with titles that rhyme. For every “Be Kind Rewind” or “Chop Shop,” which I liked, there’s a “From Prada to Nada” or “Good Luck Chuck” that remind me that some of the time, a rhyme equals grime.
OK, that was lame, but you get the idea.
Cutesy titles are often the first warning sign of what is to follow. A new film, “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” commits the name game sin, but Academy Award nominee Lesley Manville brings the poetry to the movie.
Set in 1957, Manville plays Ada Harris, an optimistic London house cleaner. “Today’s my lucky day,” she says. A self-described “invisible woman,” she is also a dreamer, a person who hangs on to the belief that her husband Eddie will finally come home from war, and that something better is always around the corner.
Only one of those things is true.
When Eddie is officially declared killed in action, she is devastated, but stoic. “I should have known he would have gotten back to me if he could have,” she said, holding back tears. “Well, footloose and fancy free.”
When she sees a beautiful Dior haute couture gown belonging to one of her aristocratic customers, it is an epiphany. Although the dress costs double what she makes a year, she makes it her goal to visit Paris’s 30 Avenue Montaigne, Christian Dior’s namesake boutique, and treat herself to a dress.
Through a series of unlikely happenstances, Mrs. Harris raises enough money to get to the City of Lights, pay cash for the dress and fulfil her dream, but how will she, as the snobby Dior house manager Claudine Colbert (Isabelle Huppert) asks, “give the dress the life it deserves.”
“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is the kind of feel good-movie that seems as though it was written by an algorithm. Of course, it’s based on the 1958 novel “Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris” by Paul Gallico, which later a became TV movie of the same name starring Angela Lansbury, Diana Rigg, and Omar Sharif, but it feels as though a bot was asked, “What makes people feel all cuddly- cushy?”
How about some old school British slang, some romance, the Eiffel Tower, glittering dresses, some class warfare and even a tad of existentialism? Nothing like a movie about aspirations with a side of Jean-Paul Sartre.
The philosopher’s name is used as a prop to illustrate the intellectual prowess of the French love interests (Alba Baptista and Lucas Bravo) but Mrs. Harris appears to take Sartre’s ideas to heart.
When Sartre said, “Life begins on the other side of despair,” he may have been talking about Mrs. Harris’s rebirth after she learned Eddie wasn’t coming back to her. Sartre’s observation, “We are our choices,” applies to the title character’s indomitable spirit and her decision to find the beauty in her world, no matter how frivolous. While the movie reduces the existentialist’s theories to pop psychology, the uplift in Manville’s winning performance provides an escape to a more glamorous time (even if it takes place in Paris during a garbage strike).
“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is predictable and overlong, but Manville brings the heart and soul.