A primrose-ish path to Paris

Samuel Johnson writes that the use of travel is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of how thinking about things may be, to see them as they are.  

Whatever territory is the opposite of this is where we end up with Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris. 

Proceeding with a nursery rhyme logic as prim and tidy as the jingle in its title, this highly imaginative journey through a mid-twentieth century version of the European capital tells the story of a working class Londoner, Mrs. Harris, who, after spying a really expensive dress in the closet of a house she cleans, makes it her life’s mission to acquire one of her own.

Tightening belts and pinching pennies is never going to get her the distance, though, so she very conveniently wins the lottery, finds a diamond ring on the street, and suddenly receives years of back pay from an unanticipated war widow’s pension, all before taking her first step abroad. 

Things pretty much continue apace from there–in other words, this is the stuff of pure moonlight and dewy-eyed dreams, almost entirely unregulated by how the world really works.

For instance, from the first frame everyone in London is nice to Mrs. Harris (it’s never a good sign when everybody is smiling). In Paris, precisely the right person, at precisely the right moment, always goes out of their way to help her (from celebrity fashion models to bums on the street). 

And perhaps most frothy and school girlish of all, no one in her world casts a substantial shadow across the resolution to make a ten-thousand dollar compilation of cloth the center of her universe.

She wants it, effectively gives up everything to get it, and walks away with a smile on her face.

A sure way to make something seem silly, though, is to treat it too seriously, and such an immersion us, skirt to shoulders, in a problem-free, vicarious idolatry of haute culture, makes Mrs. Harris pretty silly, start to finish. 

If there is anything revelatory about the film, though, it is its testament to the child’s heart that might still beat beneath the bosom of a retiree. In this far off land of once upon a time, goodness and generosity always win, wrinkles pose no impediment to romance, and a girl is still a princess even when she’s sixty.

There is some truth to this, eternally speaking: God is generous; we are designed to enjoy his everlasting love; and all Christians, however old, remain children of the King.

In the case of this film, though, such insights come wrapped in such an elaborate arrangement of superficiality and nonsense that the viewer likely to appreciate them will probably also want a taste (or tolerance) for twinkle, twinkle little star. 

If we all close our eyes, it turns out, Paris can serve just as well as fairyland for the backdrop to an entirely unrestrained fantasy. 
But if that’s all we’re after, I am not sure most of us really need Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, and might achieve much the same simply staying put.