Emily In Paris Was A Battle Of Escapism vs Realism In My Head. Escapism Won And Je Ne Regrette Rien!
I remember this one filmmakers’ roundtable interview I watched, where Karan Johar talked about how our evolving realism and cynicism has somehow ruined the charm of movies for us. I am all for woke cinema, but somewhere deep in my heart, I kind of understood what he meant. I LOVE 90s rom-coms and Hallmark’s Holiday movies. But I can no longer watch them without thinking, “Okay, this is stupid!” and “That does not happen in real life!” Escapism is one of the prime experiences that entertainment sells. And during a pandemic, this commodity is in high demand. Netflix’s new series Emily In Paris, starring Lilly Collins, and created by Sex and The City and Beverly Hills, 90210 creator Darren Star, is like a champagne shower of escapism, with a side of La Durée macarons.
I was a little late to the watch party because I was busy with my 14.5-season Supernatural rewatch, in preparation for the grand ending to the Winchester family business. With the end of the world happening both on-screen and off-screen (it does feel apocalyptic, doesn’t it?), I knew I needed something light and fun to watch next. The general consensus on Emily In Paris from friends and critics alike was that it was full of stereotypes that Americans had about the French, rom-com clichés, fashion that would seem rather ringarde to the untrained eye, and a whole lot of dolled up, easy escapism. Oh and lots of eye candy.
I won’t lie, I observed all of that and more things wrong with the series when I started watching it at around dinner time. By 3 am, my mind had hungrily gobbled the series like unhealthy comfort food without worrying about the sugar intake or the preservatives.
Emily In Paris is basically The Devil Wears Prada meets Sex And The City
The official synopsis of the series says, “Emily, an ambitious twenty-something marketing executive from Chicago, unexpectedly lands her dream job in Paris when her company acquires a French luxury marketing company — and she is tasked with revamping their social media strategy. Emily’s new life in Paris is filled with intoxicating adventures and surprising challenges as she juggles winning over her work colleagues, making friends, and navigating new romances.”
Emily’s life is picture perfect to the T in Paris. I mean, sure, she is new to the city, money, and her boss and co-workers don’t like her because they think she’s there to destroy their French-ness by imposing American diktats on them. But really, she wears designer outfits, replete with charming accessories and matching handbags and shoes. She eats out all the time. Almost always takes random lunches. And her job is the most non-pressure job I have ever seen in social media! And I can tell you that because I have worked in the same profile and it is nowhere close!
In that sense Emily In Paris is a lot more like Sex And The City, then. You know, where they made you think Carrie’s apartment and lifestyle was moderate but she was able to sustain a Manolo Blahnik obsession. If you thought meeting men was easy for Carrie and her friends, wait till you see the ease with which Emily Cooper find gorgeous and rich men falling for her!
There’s also the boss from hell who doesn’t like her but has this gut feeling that she’s warming up to her. The funny-bitchy-but-helpful coworker trope has two participants. And we also have a Asian friend who feels like a direct import from Crazy Rich Asians. If Mr. Big was Carrie’s ‘One’, Emily has Gabriel, the friendly neighbourhood chef who is instantly intrigued by this confident American who thinks she can add filters to Paris to make it American enough for her. The only absolutely non-SATC thing that I could find is Emily’s utter disregard for basic girl code because she kisses her good friend Camille’s boyfriend. But you root for her either way, because, girl, have you seen Gabriel’s eyes?
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The ‘French’ Mistake
Emily Cooper landed this job because her boss, the one with the French degree and the Parisian life dream, finds out she is pregnant. Within literally ten minutes of the first episode, Emily lands in Paris, meets a cute guy who receives her, and leads her to an apartment and flirts with her. Before mid-episode, she has already met the sexy male lead after she mistakenly tries to open his apartment door because she gets confused about the floors.
Her office peeps are rather hostile, which fits into the whole idea that the French aren’t very welcoming if you don’t speak their language. And yet, Emily manages to get almost all of her office, random strangers on the road and some of the most prominent men on the Paris fashion scene to warm up to her even though she doesn’t learn their language. It reminded me of this scene from TDWP, where Andy goes crying to Nigel about how Miranda and her coworkers hate her, and he reminds her that it is because she only deigns to work at a job which so many people would die to work at. Which makes sense, right?
But here Emily is, mocking their language and trying to tell them their social media strategy is trash (even though her’s is rather basic too)! What was she expecting? Having been to Paris twice myself, I can affirm the proposition that is often presented in the series that this would’ve been okay if Emily was simply a tourist. But if you are going to work with them, date them, or try to convince them to buy into your risqué social media ideas, it’s going to be so damn hard to do it without speaking French! Erm, basic!
Emily In Paris made me realise, some stereotypes are actually correct
While Emily Cooper’s job might make you wish you had it that easy, I know enough of the industry to realise that for some people it actually is that easy. I’ve come across enough ‘influencers’ who hold day jobs and get away with doing rather minimal, lazy work. It’s actually not even lazy every time. In India and America, workaholicism is rewarded and appreciated. But in many other counties, jobs are divided to such granular levels, to ensure everything gets done effectively and no one individual is burdened. Maybe Emily’s job wasn’t the run-of-the-mill social media manager’s job. And if she were good at thinking on her feet some basic ideas, which we see that she is, it might’ve been enough to appease her employers.
One of the things that irked me the most on the show was how easy it was for @emilyinparis, Emily’s Instagram account, to gain followers and popularity. All she was doing was posting rather random photos with captions like “butter + chocolate = <3 “ How were people liking that? And then it hit me! Gosh, she is a stunning girl, with Parisian sights in the background, living a dream life for those stuck back home. Of course, she was raking in the likes and comments! I mean, let’s be honest, that’s the USP of most influencers, isn’t it?
Which lead me to a deeper analysis of how everything for Emily was so easy and simple. She was a beautiful, young woman, stunning enough for a veteran fashion designer like Pierre Cadeau to let her model his outfit. Being that good-looking does open doors for you. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that it’s why everyone’s nice enough to get over her not speaking French and messing up. It’s literally a plot point in The Devil Wears Prada, where Andy starts ‘looking and dressing pretty’, which ups her confidence, and suddenly everyone from her devil boss to the sexy playboy journalist is falling for her! Okay, got it.
Call me ringarde (basic), but despite all of these complaints, I enjoyed Emily In Paris!
Emily In Paris is a very basic and flawed American understanding of what life in Paris would be like. As someone in the comments under the trailer pointed out, it’s only possible if you have a lot of money. All of it is true.
When it comes to performances, I found Lilly Collins pleasing to watch; something tells me a wrong casting would’ve made the character rather annoying. You already know I fell hard for Lucas Bravo and he does play his part with conviction. Super enchantée to know him! I do wish we could’ve gotten to see more of Ashley Park, who plays Mindy Chen, Emily’s friend, because she seems like a hoot and deserves more stage-singing time and a meaty track. My favourite, though, is hands down Philippine Leroy Beaulieu, who plays Sylvie Grateau, Emily’s boss at Savoir. The only thing I love more than her sexy slouch and eye rolls are her outfits! Mon dieu! Everyone’s beautiful to look at, sounds lovely, wears couture, and life is indeed coming up roses for them.
The touristy lens with which we see Paris is rather… erm… sanitised. I remember, on both my visits, being told that it was a bit too easy to get mugged or robbed in Paris, with the French police unable to do much about it. You saw it in Queen too, remember? The pastel backdrop with Emily’s popping colour palette serves to market Paris as the romance capital of the world. I believed in it too, because that’s what’s been fed to us. But ask people who live in the city, or visit it like more than once, and you might not find it as charming as the show’s characters hype it up to be.
Despite metros, malls and restaurants opening up, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, with no end in sight and far, far away from the going back to the normal we knew. Sure, you’ve managed to find new hobbies, maintain work-life balance, and bake enough banana bread to stack an Eiffel Tower of your own. But you miss the carefree abandon of life BC (Before COVID)!
At such a time, you want to escape it all! Watching Emily Cooper hug her new friends, eat an omelette made in an unwashed pan, take a road trip through the French countryside and vacay at a chateau in Champagne, wear gorgeous clothes to work every day, party in a club, and kiss strangers without worrying about virus infection gives me so much saudade mixed with freeing joy! I was living La Vie en Rose vicariously through Emily in Paris!
Right now, all of us our struggling with keeping our jobs, running households on slashed salaries, the ground realities of life getting riskier each day. Our relationships are strained because of the distance and the cabin fever frustration. We’ve started to hate our jobs. We’re struggling to even put on bras and makeup because of lethargy. So yes, we don’t see Emily Cooper deal with all these meagre, normal adulting problems. And yes, even when she messed up bad and got fired from her job at one point, things just fell in place for her on their own. But if you ask me, I’m down with that. If I wanted realism, I get plenty of that from my life, thank you very much. I want my only problem to be a broken shower or picking between the blue-eyed neighbour I’ve fallen for or the rich, fashion empire heir who wants to take me to Saint-Tropez for a getaway!
Verdict: It’s Escapism vs Realism in my head. But it’s okay to let the former win.
The pandemic is a time for survival in a way that works best for you. If it means you look for coping mechanism like escapism via something like Emily In Paris, go for it. I did. Even with all the reviews swirling around in my head, and the constant woke switch being flipped on that made me say “Okay, this would never happen in real life!” Yes, it doesn’t. But are you really enjoying your real life right now? No? Do you want to be bathed in glittery champagne spray that washes away your exhaustion for the time being? Then go for it, like I did. Je ne regrette rien!