Saying yes to the dress
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is a delightful movie about finding life’s purpose through serving others
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At first glance, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris seems like a Cinderella story for older folks—a humble cleaning lady embarks on an adventure to buy a life-changing dress—but this middle-aged Cinderella turns out to be something of a fairy godmother herself. The film, currently in theaters, adapts Paul Gallico’s 1958 novel Mrs. ’Arris Goes to Paris with beauty and warmhearted wit.
It’s 1957, and Ada Harris, played by Lesley Manville, is a war widow in London who makes ends meet by cleaning houses. Her employers take her for granted, and some of her friends do too. Her life has been on hold since the war ended, but she finds a new purpose after seeing her employer’s custom-made Dior gown. Mrs. Harris decides she must have one too, but a Dior dress’s 500-pound price tag is an impossibly large expense for someone like her. The doughty Mrs. Harris, however, scrimps and saves, and after experiencing a little good luck, she heads to Paris to claim her gown.
But Mrs. Harris isn’t prepared for the world of haute couture at the House of Dior, and purchasing a gown proves more complicated than expected. Some members of Paris’ high society resent the disruption her simple virtues bring to their image-conscious world. But others embrace the good-natured Mrs. Harris, inspired by her honesty and love of others. She improves the lives of everyone she meets.
The quest for a luxurious dress is a fanciful plot device, but the movie doesn’t endorse materialism. Mrs. Harris doesn’t think the dress will make her a better person. Many characters ask her why she wants one: Where would she wear it? She doesn’t know. She just wants it because it’s beautiful. Her attempts to buy a dress are reminiscent of Jesus’ parable about the pearl of great price. Her sacrifice for one beautiful object doesn’t make financial sense, but there’s a certain charm to Mrs. Harris’ pursuit of beauty for its own sake.
The movie doesn’t glamorize the wealthy and fashionable lifestyle at the expense of the ordinary lives of common people. It’s quite the opposite. Parisian high society isn’t a happy society. The dream makers at the House of Dior can create beauty, but they don’t necessarily know who they are and what they want. They lack the wisdom that comes with humility. It’s this wisdom that Mrs. Harris possesses in abundance, and she shares it with others, not through lecturing, but through loving.
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is rated PG—the characters consume alcohol and smoke cigarettes—and the film is fairly wholesome, though in one scene Mrs. Harris’ new French friends bring her to a burlesque show in which women dance in their undergarments.
But on the whole, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is a delightful movie, with a heartwarming story about a group of people audiences will fall in love with. This midcentury fairy tale reminds us beauty is important and kindness, honesty, and sacrifice for others are the keys to a meaningful life.
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