Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris | Movie Review

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Back in the day, especially in times of trouble, people flocked to the movies to escape. Musicals, formulaic love stories and light, fluffy fare with happy endings were standards for audiences wishing to lose themselves in a little fantasy, even for a couple of hours.

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” opening today in theaters, has elements of the movies from that bygone era, but also has a surprising amount of depth that one might not expect.  

Author Paul Gallico first introduced us to Mrs. Harris in 1958 with “Flowers for Mrs. Harris,” later called “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” and went on to write four books total about the adventures of the little charwoman, which the New York Times said was one of the most endearing characters Gallico ever created.

The book became a CBS television movie, starring Angela Lansbury in the titular role, in 1992. You can catch it on YouTube.

This big screen version, led by the amazing Leslie Manville (“The Phantom Thread” and “Let Him Go“) as the heroine Ada Harris, tells the story of the World War II widow living in London, who spends the day cleaning for wealthy folks, while holding out hope that her MIA husband is still alive, even after 10 years. Loyal, solid, and very much the caretaker, Ada spends much of her day to day life building up others, consoling others, and giving of herself to everyone else. She begins to feel underappreciated and invisible.    

While cleaning for one of her wealthier employers, Ada sees her first Dior gown, and falls in love. Vowing to have more beauty in her life, she dreams of owning one. After a few “lucky days,” she heads to Paris in pursuit of said dream. Along the way, Ada continues to care for others, empower others, and manages to come to a new acceptance and realization for her own life.

Manville takes a part that could be a little cartoonish and possibly predictable, and adds warmth, intentional thought, and great care. 

Manville’s Harris is real, even though elements around her seem to border on a storybook atmosphere at times. She takes a familiar type of character and makes us care deeply about her.

I’ve been a fan of Manville since seeing her in “The Phantom Thread” in which she played the stoic, upper-crust fashion house manager and sister of designer Daniel Day Lewis. She showed her versatility in the Kevin Costner/Diane Lane film “Let Him Go” from 2020, in which she played a murderous, southern matriarch of a family of thugs.  

It’s about time she was allowed to lead a movie, and  I hope there are more opportunities for her.

The supporting cast is fantastic, with not one weak performance. Even the French winos in the bus station are fun to watch and endearing.

World-renowned actress Isabelle Huppert appears as the character Madame Claudine Colbert, the snooty Dior house manager who would give Manville’s Phantom Thread character a run for her money. Huppert clearly took this role to have a little fun, which is apparent in her over-the-top-handling of the character. I say that in a good way, and while many critics might pan her performance, I found her hilarious and at times, inhabiting depth and endearing qualities. I’m always impressed when an actor with such a resume as Hupperts decides to sink their teeth into a supporting role.

I think the most refreshing part of the movie were the twists and turns at the very end. Just when I started to get annoyed that the story was getting all tied up into a neat, predictable little happy ending, there was a reality check curveball that evened things out. Due to that ending and this clearly being Manville’s picture, “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is much more than an escapist picture. It may even usher in the  trend of more “feel good” movies.

Where did they go anyway?

My grade: A. Yes, go see it in the theater. Buy some popcorn, too.

“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” opens in theaters July 15 and is rated PG. Running time is one hour, 55 minutes.

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