Review: Emily in Paris: A Modern Trip to the City of Love30 November 2020
We’ve all fantasised about flying to a foreign country and living out our wildest dreams without a care in the world. For Emily, this is a reality, though things are slightly more organised and less carefree in her case. Darren Star, creator of Beverly Hills 90210, Sex and the City, and more recently, Younger, brings Emily in Paris to Netflix. The painfully cringeworthy and sometimes pointless dialogue stands out from the first episode. I could barely absorb the gorgeous sites of Paris against the dreary conversations taking place. I was inclined to turn the TV off and put on a more enjoyable show but my curiosity to see if the series would get any better won out.
The ten-episode first season follows Emily Cooper (Lily Collins), a naïve and determined Chicago marketing executive who is relocated to bring social media engagement to her company’s Paris team. Struggling to learn the language, Emily strives to bring an ‘American perspective’ to her unresponsive work team but soon realises she is an outcast. Emily’s ‘can do’ attitude leads her to try and make the most of her time in the beautiful city of Paris. And of course, the series has a never-ending amount of love interests to entertain.
The show maintained its rank within Netflix Australia’s top 10 most watched list weeks after its release. The high ranking tells us that many are viewing, however the recent backlash against the portrayal of French culture in the series suggests not everyone is enjoying themselves. Emily in Paris is indeed riddled with French stereotypes and clichés. Characters are consistently late to work and presented as rude with bad hygiene. The show is intended to be a cliché and should be perceived that way, so the exaggeration of Paris and those living in it aren’t out of place. The series was also recently renewed for a second season, so the abundance of cultural commentary hasn’t seemed to faze the production team.
Collins describes the role as her “dream job” in an interview on Live with Kelly and Ryan. She delivers a delightful performance as a bubbly American girl in a foreign city. However, Collins presents her character with a certain coldness which makes it difficult to easily warm to Emily. Broadway performer Ashley Park stars as Emily’s outspoken friend Mindy. Park has made a smooth transition from theatre to the small screen and her gorgeous vocals are showed off in a spectacular music sequence.
While the characters are well-cast, the modern feature of Emily in Paris is overwhelming. Text messages, Apple Watch data, and Instagram profiles are frequently displayed on screen. Much of the time there is little significance to their appearance besides reminding the audience that Emily is a social-media-obsessed woman living in 2020. This is somewhat representative of society’s obsession with digitally documenting every second of their existence. In the pilot, Emily literally stops eating a croissant (which she is clearly enjoying) to take a boomerang video of her taking a bite of it for her social media followers. Rather than just eating the croissant (shock!) she felt the burning need to broadcast it. This social media obsession continues well into the season with Emily’s phone permanently glued to her hand. It is almost physically impossible for Emily to do or see anything without snapping a photo and uploading it to her Instagram under the appropriate username – @emilyinparis. I wonder whether Emily was visiting places in Paris because she wanted to or just so she could post. If you can embrace this overtly contemporary aspect then you will freely appreciate the series.
To this extent, Emily is a nauseatingly performative character. I do applaud Darren Star for creating such a flawed protagonist. Not only is Emily obsessed with her followers, but she also frequently reminds the audience that she isn’t perfect in more ways than one. I won’t expand much for fear of spoiling, but her exterior veil of loyalty is slowly broken down over the season. Although everyone performs at some level in their daily life, it is disappointing that the ‘real’ Emily never seems to surface. It would have elevated the series if her character were more developed. Emily only briefly mentions her life before Paris and I often found it difficult to connect to her due to these surface level and social media driven moments.
In saying that, there are many entertaining aspects of the series. Workplace complications, love triangles, and fashion show extravaganzas prove to be captivating storylines that are definitely better established than the characters. You’ll root for Emily as she endures the pains of working abroad where she clearly isn’t wanted and you’ll question her decisions concerning her love life, but above all going along for the ride with Emily is a nice break from reality. While it might be painful at times, it’s hard to deny that the show is a lovely escape from everyday life. Alongside the intriguing narrative, the costumes are incredibly pleasing and always filled with colour. Patricia Field is credited with working in the costume department. You may be familiar with her work on Sex and the City which explains why Collins is always impeccably dressed as Emily.
There is also the obvious and relevant benefit that we can ‘visit’ Paris whilst being confined to our homes. Cinematographers Steven Fierberg and Alexander Gruszynski beautifully capture Paris’ most exquisite locations and the wonderful French soundtrack accompanying almost every episode creates terrific travel sequences. The gorgeous sites Emily visits and the restaurants she dines at make me yearn for a holiday which is hopefully on the horizon!
The series is light-hearted, but its lack of character development and overall performativity is distracting. The nostalgia associated with Paris is brutally eliminated by the presence of technology. If you want to zone out for a few hours then this is the show for you, but if you’re in search for something profound, I suggest you seek entertainment elsewhere. Yes, the show is intended to be upbeat, but ultimately Paris is a place of wonder and the all-consuming inclusion of social media and useless dialogue diminishes the magic Emily in Paris should be dripping with.
Emily in Paris is now streaming on Netflix.
Image sources provided.