Anthony Fabian’s Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris is an incredibly charming and pleasant ride that could have used a shorter runtime and a better ending.
Before I actually start talking about the contents of the movie, I want to talk about the film’s title, Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris. It’s inherently a very appealing and marketable one; it’s simple, contains a rhyme and is so silly that it will always cause an audible reaction from whoever’s reading it. Months before I’d actually seen the film, I knew it for its name, and wondered what kind of movie would employ a title this silly. Having now seen it, it makes perfect sense. Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris is exactly what you’d expect it to be, but, for some reason I can’t quite understand, it works.
The film stars Lesley Manville as the titular Mrs. Harris, a recently widowed cleaning lady, who after a lucky series of events, finds herself with a lot of money and a single dream – to buy her own Dior dress. She embarks on an adventure to Paris in order to fulfil this dream, charming every single person she comes across. There’s a significant resemblance to Paddington (2014) here, in the way that the film’s main trick is simply to charm the socks off of whoever’s watching. Their central characters are remarkably similar in their attitudes towards the world and the people who inhabit it, and it makes for this remarkably universal appeal. Whilst it’s obviously intended for older women, I do think anyone could enjoy it, as long as they’re willing to give it a go and not just dismiss it as wish fulfilment.
Turning our attention to Mrs. Harris, she is absolutely a too-good-to-be-true kind of protagonist. She’s kind and selfless to a fault and wherever she goes, people adore her. Normally, this kind of character plus her constant good luck could result in an irritating watch, but Manville imbues the role with such a vibrant energy that miraculously every line lands. From the second you start this film to the moment it ends, Manville single-handedly ensures you will have a smile stapled onto your face. The other performances are fine, I particularly enjoyed Ellen Thomas’ appearances as Harris’ close friend Vi, but the film is very much carried on Manville’s back. Trust me, that Golden Globe nomination wasn’t just a panic “there’s no-one left” pick, she absolutely earned it.
Also, the costume design is definitely worth a lot of praise. Oscar-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan worked on the film and the dresses on display here are absolutely gorgeous. A story like this, where the main character is on a quest for something that’s meant to be beautiful, somewhat hinges on that item actually being incredibly visually appealing, and here, it absolutely is. Every single costume is fantastic and the Oscar nomination is definitely deserved. I also think a somewhat underrated element of the film that maybe deserved to sneak into the Oscar conversation is Rael Jones’ score. It reminded me a lot of Michael Giacchino’s score for Up (2009), and I think it works really well. Every track is beautiful and helps the film constantly feel exciting and full of life, even when it starts to lose steam.
As much as I enjoyed my time with the film, I do have to admit that the first act is easily its strongest. Maybe that was a case of my admittedly low expectations working in the film’s favour, as it surprised me with its charm and bright energy out of the gate, but by the time Mrs. Harris had actually spent some time in Paris, I started to feel like it had somewhat tired itself out. The plot is incredibly simple and so it often feels like it’s padding itself out to reach a feature-length runtime. Somehow, they managed to stretch it out to almost 2 hours, and it results in the pacing feeling sluggish at times during the second act. I’m somewhat astounded by its length, as it feels like the kind of film where it would be massively improved if they cut 20-30 minutes.
On top of that, whilst the third act is a definite improvement in terms of entertainment value, the plot starts to feel quite messy. I wasn’t too keen with how it all ended and whilst it was obviously another attempt to show just how good of a person Mrs. Harris is and how good things happen to good people, the final events felt so overly sweet that they lost the charm that had fuelled the film up to that point. The message Mrs Harris Goes To Paris is trying to convey, one in support of being a good person, isn’t a particularly new or engaging one, and so to have it pushed in your face repeatedly for almost 2 hours can get exhausting.
In conclusion, Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris is, at its core, Paddington 2 (2017) for elderly women. With that being said though, the film manages to be so full of life and charm that its appeal becomes universal. It serves as a reminder that sometimes the best kind of cinema is one that’s only goal is to put a smile on your face and show off some nice dresses.
Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris is now available to watch on digital and on demand.