Netflix’s Emily in Paris stars British-American Lily Collins, who has been acting since the age of two. The daughter of musician Phil Collins, she’s 31, looks twenty five and wow, do clothes, minuscule as they are, hang well on her. Series creator Darren Star of Sex and the City fame again collaborates with unerring costumer Patricia Field. You might not conceive of being caught dead in some of these outfits (bucket hats?!), but they’re cool and appropriate (if prohibitively expensive) in context.
Extraordinary wardrobe (of women and men) is part of a four vital factors in this Star series. The other three are mouth-watering food, the glorious postcard Paris of songs and stories (the way Woody Allen looks at New York), and a uniformly attractive cast.
When her boss gets pregnant, Emily inherits the enviable assignment of spending a year in Paris helping the small luxury marketing company Savoir – which her Chicago-based firm has acquired – expand their social media presence. Though an Instagram and Twitter queen, she speaks no French, has never handled upscale clientele, and clearly knows about Gallic personality only what’s she’s learned from très cliché movies. As it turns out, the production chooses to portray Parisians that way, so little conflict there. (The French have objected.) Fortunately, stereotypical characters are, if often misogynistic and/or judgmental, written with wit.
Our heroine lives in an oversized, attic chambre de bonne (maid’s room – they’re usually about 100 sq. feet) and daily climbs five flights in her Louboutin stilettos (we’ve moved on from Manolo Blahnik). Lugging suitcases the size of her body up those stairs is unlikely. She wears high test designer apparel – never twice, and must have a closet the size of the one Mr. Big built for future wife Carrie Bradshaw. We wisely never see it.
Savoir is run with a manicured iron fist by Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaullieu whom you might have seen in the series Call My Agent). Forty-something, the boss is ultra-chic with the esprit du corps of one who knows she has it entirely right and deserves every appreciative look and perk (including the requisite affair with a married client).
Sylvie is not, not, not happy with her new “employee,” disdains and criticizes at every turn and, of course, woefully underestimates the wide-eyed American. Emily’s ideas, presented against all odds, are a delight of the series. That she persists in treating her “superior” as if they’re going to become best buds seems a map to failure.
So far, the only office staff we meet are Luc (Bruno Gouery – imagine a young Pierre Richard – maybe it’s the Art Garfunkel hair) and Julien (Samuel Arnold) who affectionately call her “La Plouc” (the hick). They run from the patronne, but helpfully keep Emily informed. Also constantly present is Gabriel (Lucas Bravo) the handsome chef downstairs whose apartment Emily mistakes for her own the first day not realizing au premier étage means second floor. In no short time, her plumbing breaks down and she has to borrow his shower. They become it’s-only-a-matter-of-time friends.
Two young women she meets cute on the street round out Emily’s immediate circle. Having humiliated herself singing on the Chinese version of American Idol, Mindy (Ashley Park from Broadway’s Mean Girls), daughter of the Asian Zipper King, has fled to Paris becoming a nanny (with inordinate freedom and a bank account) of two rambunctious kids she occasionally admonishes in Mandarin.
Camille (Camille Razat), the daughter of a family who own a modest chateau and champagne vineyard, steps between Emily and a snappish street florist, then invites her to an art exhibit where the American learns her hostess is Gabriel’s girlfriend. At Camille’s instigation, they become a genial threesome. (She’s oblivious to chemistry between the others.)
Pop culture is omnipresent. Emily’s phone is an extension of her mind as well as her hand. Some photos and hashtags are pedestrian. So many show her cavorting with girlfriends, a stranger might assume she’s gay. Others are extremely clever and/or well aimed. The speed with which she acquires followers, even when Brigitte Macon (wife of the president) re-tweets her, is unfathomable. I assume the exercise will resonate with much of the audience. It can momentarily grate on we older folk, seeming vapid.
And then there are the men, all of them attractive, seductive, appreciative, and stylish. Pretty much every straight male Emily meets (except Gabriel) both socially and professionally takes her to bed en passant (incidentally/in passing). To say she’s liberated is putting it mildly. We haven’t seen this much sex since the late 1960s. And everyone wakes up happy.
Emily in Paris is not brainless. It’s a frothy, aspirational romantic comedy. If you suspend belief, enjoy moments of humor and cleverness, find the view appealing and the young women not too irritating, it might become a guilty pleasure.
Top photo: Lily Collins as Emily in Emily in Paris. Credit: Stephanie Branchu/Netflix © 2020