Mrs. Ada Harris feels like she’s invisible.
It’s 1950s London, and Ada’s a widowed cleaning lady. She’s barely making ends meet by working for her much richer clients who hardly pay her the time of day—let alone pay her on time.
But one of her clients (who needs to delay Ada’s pay by another week) has just purchased a beautiful dress from Christian Dior that cost a whopping 500 pounds. It’s the most beautiful thing Ada has ever seen.
Suddenly, things are looking up for Ada. She wins 150 pounds betting in a football pool. She gains a sum of money for returning a lost ring. A military representative even comes by to pay Ada’s forgotten widow’s wage for her husband’s death in World War II. Unexpectedly, Ada’s got more than enough money to fly to Paris, buy herself her own Dior dress and get back to London wearing a wonderful dress that’ll make her more visible than ever.
Except, when she arrives in Paris, things don’t go that smoothly. For one thing, the streets are filled with garbage due to a trash-collector strike. And even with the money for a dress, Ada’s not exactly the type of clientele Dior typically services—and their brand is known for being exclusive to the wealthy.
But Ada’s got the money, and by golly, she’s got the perseverance. She’s going to get an exquisite dress and flee invisibility no matter what—and she’ll make her charismatic mark on a few hearts along the way.
André, a high-ranking employee at Dior, is very friendly to Ada (though initially, this is because he wants her much-needed business). He offers to send a telegram back home for her, he gives her a place to stay, and he provides clothes for her to wear. He also introduces a philosophical idea to Ada: Is she simply a cleaning lady, or is she more than her role in society?
Ada’s cheerful and insistent presence often causes others to grow to be kinder, more confident people. However, there are also some people who mistreat Ada, thinking themselves better than her. Throughout the movie, Ada gains confidence in herself, refusing to allow others to belittle her for her job as a cleaning lady.
This becomes one focal point of the movie, in which a prominent theme is the idea of social invisibility. As a poor, widowed cleaning lady, Ada is seen as the “invisible woman” to much of society. One of her clients even comments (in what is meant to be a compliment) on how the only indication of her presence is the polish left on his doorknobs.
But Ada slowly realizes she isn’t “just” the cleaning lady, the invisible woman who takes care of the house and leaves without a trace—she’s her own person. As one character notes, Ada is beautiful inside an extravagant Dior dress, but she was beautiful before she had it, too. Though society told her she was invisible, Ada finds her own visibility—as well as a knowledge that visibility isn’t everything.
This contrasts with Natasha, a model at Dior whom Ada befriends. Natasha is extremely visible—she’s the most well-known and well-loved model for the company. That role requires working exhausting hours late into the night, and she’s tired of always being in the spotlight. Eventually, Natasha learns a similar truth as Ada: Visibility isn’t everything, and it’s not always bad to fade into the background every once in a while.
Though Ada loves a dress, she allows a client in need to wear it. Ada doesn’t fully understand the proper etiquette for Dior, but many of the employees still treat her kindly. Ada’s friends Vi and Archie consistently check in on her to help her any way they can.
Ada frequently talks into the air to her dead husband, believing that he is helping to guide her on the path she should take.
One of Ada’s clients wears lingerie that reveals her cleavage as she gets ready to leave the house. We see multiple instances of Dior models in lingerie while they get ready to model dresses or take measurements.
Men and women dance on a stage at a restaurant. The men dance shirtless in overalls, and the women pull away their clothes to dance in sensual tasseled bralettes and tight underwear.
Natasha kisses two different men.
Ada’s husband is said to have died in World War II. André accidentally hits Natasha on the head. Ada’s friend breaks a window. A taxi drives erratically. A woman’s dress catches on fire while she’s wearing it.
God’s name is misused 10 times, and Jesus’ name is uttered inappropriately once. The word “t-ts” is used once. A few characters belittle Ada for her financial status. Someone is called an “idiot” and a “cretin.”
Champagne, brandy and wine are all mentioned. People drink beer and wine in a bar and at a party. Ada drinks champagne and wakes up with a hangover the next day. Men and women are often seen smoking.
Ada litters into a river. Gambling occurs at a dog race. Ada places bets in the UK football pools.
Ada Harris isn’t making her mark on the world. Technically, she’s removing said marks.
Her cleaning services have kept her afloat after her husband’s death in the war, but they haven’t done much for her in terms of social status. The wealthy clients who employ her talk at her rather than with her. She’s effectively invisible.
That’s why the employees at Paris’ Christian Dior—a brand known for dressing royalty—are incredulous when Ada, a poor cleaning lady from London, arrives at their doorstep wanting to purchase a dress costing 500 pounds. They’re even more baffled when she pulls the money—in cash—out of her purse.
But perhaps the most surprising thing about Ada is how quickly she ingratiates herself into the hearts of many of the employees and connoisseurs of Dior. Ada’s just a cleaning lady from London—invisible to general society, by all accounts—and yet she is making waves in a pond much bigger than society tells her she’s supposed to be swimming in. Ada’s insistent and cheerful nature leads to the visibility she’s been looking for—and perhaps, she’ll help others find it, too.
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is, quite simply, a feel-good movie. We’ll follow a cheerful woman in pursuit of a beautiful dress, and we’ll become a little more cheerful ourselves along the way. That may come as a bit of a surprise, as Ada’s world isn’t one where you’d expect someone to be so obviously joyful. She’s poor, widowed from the war and a forgotten member of society. (And we’ll also glimpse Ada as she walks a world that contains men and women wearing little clothing and plenty of drinking to boot.)
None of this phases Ada as she continues on her adventure. Her joy resonates from the screen, even amid her struggles—and that’s the main draw of this film. Like the Dior store amid Paris’ trash-covered streets, the happiness and positive messages emanating from the film helps to distract us from the content concerns that surround it.
Though he was born in Kansas, Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics and hermeneutics. His favorite movie is La La Land.