Review: Emily In Paris Presents Yet Another Clichéd Portrayal Of The French Capital
Emily in Paris, starring Lily Collins, is out on Netflix and it truly seems to be an American’s love letter to the city of romance. The series features a treasure trove of memorable images and landmarks, showcasing Paris at its finest. Like films such as Before Sunset and Midnight in Paris, Emily in Paris also plays on the Hollywood trope of presenting the French capital as the ultimate celluloid backdrop for romance, fantasy, sophistication, and escape. Although living in today’s age and time, one cannot help but question the efficacy of this kind of a white-washed, voyeuristic portrayal of the city. Because mind you, despite the drool-worthy aesthetics, Emily in Paris is an entire stockpile of all the French clichés one could possibly think of.
The ten-episode series is the brainchild of Sex and the City’s creator/executive producer/writer Darren Star, who is also known for creating Beverly Hills, 90210 and Younger. And while Star’s previous works have defined an entire generation’s idea of making it in their careers and personal lives, these shows have often been criticised for their lack of racial diversity and their dated depictions of queer community. And the sad part is, Emily in Paris is no different: it takes you back to the world of Carrie Bradshaw and Kelly Taylor, along with all the problems that imply.
The very first episode explains to the audience why Emily (Lily Collins), a marketing executive from Chicago, is all set to move to Paris. When Emily’s boss discovers she’s pregnant, she abandons her plan to move to the company’s Paris office, and instead inexplicably (one has to get used to that word, for not a lot of things happen in this show for a good reason) decides to send Emily on her behalf. Hence, Emily Cooper takes the assignment of a lifetime, moving to Paris to provide the French firm her company recently acquired with “an American perspective.”
The set-location then shifts to France, and we find Emily struggling to fit into her new environment. Add an aggravated boss of the Paris office, Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Bealieu), a hot guy-next-door, Gabriel (Lucas Bravo), a friend named Mindy (Ashley Park), and some bitchy co-workers who don’t think she’s adorable, Julien and Luke (Bruno Gouery and Samuel Arnold), and we have the perfect mix for yet another clichéd romantic comedy.
A Feast To The Eyes
What one has to give to the show is its breathtakingly beautiful aesthetics. It looks straight out of a fairytale, with the lavish outfits, glamorous parties, and picturesque views. Although, this shouldn’t come as a surprise given the big names working behind the show. Oscar-nominated production designer Anne Seibel (of Midnight in Paris fame) is at her best here, and along with the set decorator Christelle Maisonneuve, they’ve dressed up the various interior and exterior sets in strikingly pleasing colours.
The costumes are the work of the Oscar-winner Patricia Field, who is known for her legendary designs both on the Devil Wears Prada and Sex and the City.
Lily Collins as Emily Cooper commands the screen. She has great wit and comedic timing and looks perfect in everything she wears. Her character is also quite refreshingly feminist. While Emily might come off as prudish at times, it’s rather nice to see the woman protagonist of a rom-com shut down unwelcome and inappropriate advances. After all, had Emily in Paris been made a decade ago, we definitely would have seen her drooling over a gift of lingerie from an older male client, instead of calling out such indecorous behaviour.
Emily’s character also brings us face-to-face with the downsides of the corporate world and rampant capitalism, where nearly all of Emily’s waking hours are consumed by her job. Every romantic night is an impromptu pitch meeting waiting to happen, every glimpse of Parisian glamour is an opportunity to bolster social media following, and every friendship another bit of networking. If anything, Emily in Paris proves that the days of having a dream job that allowed one to have a vacation in Paris are long gone, and now the only way that can happen is if Paris is the job.
What Doesn’t Work
There’s a confusion as to what the writers wanted Emily to be: is she a tactless outsider we are supposed to laugh at, or is she an everywoman hero we are supposed to relate to? The show clearly isn’t self-reflective enough to be the former. And as for the latter, well it’s hard to relate and sympathise with a white American woman who is constantly presented as the victim for not being able to speak the language of the country she’s now working in, and who doesn’t seem to at all take seriously the idea that she should try. So when people in her Paris office find her ways obnoxious and her helplessness rather tiresome, can we really blame them? To be honest, using the trope of the misfit status — which is Emily’s own doing — as the ingredient that’s supposed to make her seem rootable is a little skewed.
The cast is also annoyingly white, and the only two persons of colour in the show are there as mere props, for they are neither given any backstories not bestowed much agency. After all, we see them being constantly interrupted by their white co-workers, but they don’t seem to mind it enough to speak out about it. One of these two characters is also gay, and his role seems to be written directly from the stereotypical gay best friend playbook: catty and always quick with a retort. He’s a throwback to the lisping, effeminate queer characters of the ’90s and it’s a pretty bad look despite the actor trying his hardest.
All in all, if you’re looking for is something a little silly, a little pretty, with a bit of garden-variety drama, Emily in Paris will be a fun, albeit clichéd, one-time watch.
The show is meant to be devoured and mostly forgotten. Although it’s high time that American filmmakers see the ridiculousness in presenting such a white-washed romantic idea of the French capital that is completely distinct from the real city, for we truly deserve better tales than this.
Picture Credit: Netflix. Views expressed are the author’s own.