Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris Movie Review

Dreams are a wonderful thing. But without work, faith, and a little hope, they remain a distant fantasy.

The new film, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, is based on the book, Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris, by Paul Gallico. Set in Britain in the late 1950s, Ada Harris (Lesley Manville) is a middle-aged woman that, for the most part, goes unnoticed. After losing her late husband in World War II, she earns her living cleaning houses. Among her clients are wannabe starlet Pamela Penrose (Rose Williams) and Lady Daunt (Anna Chancellor). Both see her, but neither truly appreciates her.

When the workday is done, she goes to the local pub to have a drink with pals Archie (Jason Isaacs) and Vi (Ellen Thomas). While working at Lady Daunt’s one day, she discovers a Dior gown and falls in love with it. The cost of the gown is obviously well beyond Ada’s meager paycheck.

After scrimping and saving (and with a little luck), she finally has the funds to afford the dress and travel to Paris. She expects to just pick up the dress and return home in a day. That plan derails the moment she enters the building. The first barrier is the directress and gatekeeper Madame Colbert (Isabelle Huppert). The second impediment is the 1% clients who are not happy that they have to compete with a British cleaning lady of all people.

But Ada is not alone. Among her new allies is the company accountant André Fauvel (Lucas Bravo), lead model Natasha (Alba Baptista), and a possible new love interest, the Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson).

Visually, this film is a feast for the eyes. It is a trip back in time that is half a Cinderella story, and half a narrative about a woman who achieves the impossible on her own terms. Ada is an everywoman who has a pollyannaish perspective that does not go too far into naivete or pie-in-the-sky beliefs. I love that she learns to stand up for herself and believe in herself when many would either look down on her or walk past her without seeing her.

My only complaint is that a good twenty minutes could have been cut and the movie would have been just as good.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is presently in theaters.

If the Shoe Fits (Meant to Be Series) Book Review

At its heart, Cinderella is the story of finding the good in life and rising about the shit that fate has sent our way.

If the Shoe Fits (Meant to Be Series), by Julie Murphy, was published last year. Cindy Woods is a plus-sized recent college graduate. After spending the last four years in New York City, her career path is stuck in first gear. With no other options, she returns to Los Angeles and her childhood home. She is welcomed with open arms by her stepmother, Erica Tremaine, and her stepsisters.

Cindy is a fashion fanatic. Due to her size, finding the latest and greatest clothing that fits her has always been a problem. When Erica’s Cinderella‘s themed reality dating show, Before Midnight (a la The Bachelor), is down a contestant, Cindy agrees to step in. It was supposed to be a way of getting her designs noticed. It also doesn’t hurt that the guy at the center of the program is good-looking.

Instead of quietly staying in the background, Cindy becomes a fan favorite. She also starts to fall for the guy. She will have to take a jump into the unknown, not knowing if it will end in heartbreak or a happy ending.

I loved this book. Murphy pays homage to the 1950 animated Disney film while writing her own story. In another narrative, Cindy would either have to lose weight to achieve her goals or be forced into the fat and funny sister/best friend role. The cherry on top for me is that Cindy is not looking for a man, her priority is her professional future.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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On a Night Like This Book Review

Change does not happen when we wish it to happen. Change happens when we make it happen.

The romance novel, On a Night Like This, by Lindsey Kelk, was published last month. Fran Cooper knows that she wants to change her life. She also knows that she needs a job. Her relationship with her fiance has become almost too comfortable. When she is offered a short-term position to work for a major celebrity as a personal assistant, Fran jumps at the chance.

Juliette is a superstar and a diva with a capital D. The long list of rules and the exacting schedule that Fran has to keep up with would make the average person’s head explode. Juliette is supposed to perform at the Crystal Ball, a once-a-year event in which only 1% of the 1% receive an invitation.

The job that is supposed to be just that changes when she meets Evan. Over the course of the evening, they connect but promise to keep certain details to themselves. There is, however, one catch. Evan is on the guest list, Fran is not. What they have could end after that night. But, given the right circumstances, it has the potential to last much longer than either anticipated.

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I liked this book. It has a Cinderella-esque, fairy tale feeling that is just enough without overwhelming the narrative. I respected understood Fran’s practicality and professionalism under circumstances that would drive most people insane. Evan has a lovely Prince Charming quality about him that is still grounded in reality.

Unlike other heroines in similar novels, this story is not about Fran finding love. That narrative is secondary. It’s about understanding that wishing for something and doing what we need to do to make it happen are two different things entirely. There is no fairy godmother who is able to turn a pumpkin into a coach. Taking her fate into her own hands, it is the decision to make the figurative jump into the unknown that opens the door to new possibilities.

My only complaint is that it took a little too long for Fran and Evan to meet. But when they did, the chemistry was instant. It’s the reason I hung on until the final page.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Mansfield Park Character Review: Mrs. Norris

*The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday at the latest from now on).

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the novel Mansfield Park. Read at your own risk if you have not read the book or watched any of the adaptations. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

Every story needs a good antagonist. Without that character, the protagonist is not challenged and basically, the reader or viewer has no reason to pay attention to the narrative. In Mansfield Park, Mrs. Norris is the eldest of the three Ward sisters. While her younger sister, Lady Bertram, married into the aristocracy, her youngest sister, Mrs. Price (mother of the book’s heroine, Fanny) disobliged her family by marrying a penniless sailor. Saying “I do” to a clergyman, she took advantage of the proximity to her sister and brother-in-law. Incensed that the baby of the family, Frances, chose a man that was far beneath her, the result of this choice was an angry letter followed by radio silence.

More than a decade later, Frances reaches out to her elder sisters, needing help. With many mouths to feed and a small income to support them, she has no choice but to contact them. As a result, Fanny is brought to Mansfield Park. The original plan was for Fanny to reside with Mr. and Mrs. Norris. But Mrs. Norris, who lacks any maternal instincts, except for those that will raise her social standing, forces Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram to take on the responsibility of caring for their niece.

Five years later, Mrs. Norris is now and widow and has moved into the big house. Giving Fanny the Cinderella treatment, she openly favors her elder nieces, Maria and Julia Bertram. Another of Fanny cousin’s, Edmund tries to interject, but his arguments cannot sway his aunt. She is the first one to bring up the idea of a marriage between Maria and Mr. Rushworth, knowing that the union is tentative until Sir Thomas gives his approval.

By the end of the story, she is still the social climber who clings tenuously to familial connections. Living with the now divorced and scandalized Maria, she remains as she ever was. But she cannot keep Fanny down. Fanny still marries Edmund and has her own version of happily ever after.

To sum it up: If there was one character who was the Austen villain, Mrs. Norris is it. She exemplifies the worst characteristics of the Regency era and the emphasis on money, class, and status. In being unable to see past these qualities, there is nothing redeemable or even likable about her.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

The Royal Treatment Movie Review

The Cinderella narrative is one that has been part of our cultural history for centuries. The prospect of a poor young woman winning the heart of the prince is a potent one that still fires up imaginations and dreams.

In the new Netflix movie, The Royal Treatment, Isabella (Laura Marano) is the owner of a hair salon in New York City. Not afraid to share her opinion, she is known for her open heart and her dreams of seeing the world. Her life takes an unexpected twist when she is hired to cut the hair of Prince Thomas of Lavania (Mena Massoud). Thomas is used to being deferential to duty and the expectations placed upon him based upon his title.

Impressed by her work and her attitude, Thomas extends an invitation to Isabella and two of her colleagues to help him and his fiance, Lauren (Phoenix Connelly) get ready for their big day. As expected, they fall in love, but there are obstacles to their happiness.

The best word to describe it is cute. It’s one of those films that is watchable and entertaining, but not very deep. We all know how the story starts, where it is going, and where it will end. That being said, I appreciate the casting of Massoud as Prince Thomas. It’s nice to see a non-Caucasian actor playing this kind of role.

Another thing I liked was the portrayal of Lauren, Thomas’s fiance. It wouldnt have been a stretch to write her as the baddie who is only marrying him for the status and wealth that comes with being a princess. But she is written in a way that I feel for her as much as I do for Thomas.

The only issue I have is the portrayal of NYC and the characters who call her home. The image is almost stereotypical. It sort of has the flavor of the city, but that flavor is merely surface level. Maybe another viewer who does not know her like those of us who live here might be ok with it, but I am not. I wish the screenwriter had dug a little deeper to reveal her true character.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

Best Books of 2021

  1. The Four Winds: Kristen Hannah has done it again. Her Cinderella-esque tale of a woman who resecues herself from a live of drugery, poverty, and low self esteem is one to be read again and again.
  2. Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People: Ben M. Freeman‘s treatise on Jews, and Jewish history is a must read for anyone who for once and for all wants to defeat antisemitism and all forms of hate.
  3. Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol: Mallory O’Meara‘s non fiction book explores how inspite of a certain image, women have been creating and drinking all forms of alcohol for centuries.
  4. I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J Trumps Catastrophic Final Year: The subject of you know who will be on the lips of writers and political historians for years to come. Authors Carol Leonning and Philip Rucker examine how the former President believed that he did not need help in running the country.
  5. Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood: Writer and podcaster Mark Oppenheimer tells the story of how a single neighborhood was affected by the murders of eleven Jewish residents in 2018.
  6. Peril: Bob Woodward and Robert Costa take a deep dive into how close the American democracy got close to destruction.
  7. The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh: This JAFF by Molly Greeley gives the spotlight to Anne de Bourgh, a minor Pride and Prejudice character who has yet to be fully seen or appreciated.
  8. Three Ordinary Girls: The Remarkable of Three Dutch Teenagers Who Become Spies, Saboteurs, Nazi Assasins-and WWII Heroes: This fascinating and powerful tale of three young ladies who led an underground war against the Nazis during World War II.
  9. Why She Wrote: A Graphic History of the Lives, Inspiration, and Influence Behind the Pens of Classic Women Writers: Written by the Bonnet at Dawn podcast hosts, this book examines the life and works of the women writers we have loved and respected for generations.
  10. The Matzah Ball: A Novel: Jean Meltzer’s Chanukah themed rom-com about two people who are secretly in love, but cannot speak the words due to the current and past trauma.

Here’s to the books we loved in 2021 and the books we will love in 2022.

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Cinderella Is Dead Book Review

We all know the story of Cinderella. Her tale has been part of our culture for an untold number of generations.

Cinderella Is Dead, by Kalynn Bayron, was published back in July. In the fictional kingdom of Mersailles, women are chattel. At the age of sixteen, young girls are required by law to present themselves at the annual ball. If any one of them is unable to find a husband by the time she turns eighteen, her fate is either servitude or disappearing forever.

 Sophia Grimmins is sixteen. She would rather marry her girlfriend, Erin, than be forced to say I do to a man she does know or care for. But she also knows what could happen to her parents if she does not attend. At the ball, Erin falls in line with the other girls. But Sophia is having none of it. After she escapes, she finds herself in Cinderella’s mausoleum. Meeting Constance, a direct descendent from one of the step-sisters, the girls hatch a plan to remove the King from the throne. Sophia also learns that the tale of Cinderella that has been drilled into her is missing a few critical pieces of information.

This book is interesting. A sort of The Handmaid’s Tale meets YA/LGBTQ fantasy, it is not our grandmother’s simplistic, Disney-fied version of the story. Which is perfectly fine with me, I am always up for a fractured fairy tale. I love the author’s creativity, the world she created is nuanced and feels closer to our world than the traditional world these narratives take place in.

The problem is initial chapter and the concluding chapters feel rushed. Instead of dropping the big reveal on the reader and letting it soak in, she pushes through it as if it were a minor plot point. Which, to be honest, was a little bit of a letdown because I wanted to feel the climax. But I didn’t.

Do I recommend it? The answer is a strong maybe.

All the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella’s Stepmother Book Review

The underlying theme of fairy tales often comes down to good vs. evil. The problem with many traditional fairy tales is that while good and evil are clear-cut in these stories, they are not so clear-cut in real life.

In Cinderella, the good is personified by the title character. The evil is personified by her wicked stepmother.  Danielle Teller’s new book, All the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella’s Stepmother, adds shades of grey to the typical fairy tale good vs. evil narrative.

Cinderella is a newlywed, happy married to her prince charming. But while she settles into newlywed bliss, her stepmother, Agnes, is dealing with rumors that she mistreated her stepdaughter.

While Cinderella or Ella as she is known, grew in aristocratic comfort, Agnes’s early life was much more difficult. The youngest daughter in a peasant family, Agnes had to go to work after the death of her mother. Relying on her intelligence, she will eventually become nursemaid and stepmother to the girl known as Cinderella.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Not only is it well written, compelling and entertaining, but it adds new literary flavors and textures to the standard Cinderella story.

I recommend it.

 

 

Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture Book Review

It’s no secret that many young girls are obsessed with all things pink, sparkly and generally princess-y. The question that many adults and many parents ask, is this obsession nature or nurture?

Journalist and writer Peggy Orenstein answers this question in her 2011 book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. To find the answer she is seeking, Ms. Orenstein not only writes about her own daughter, but about the cues and pressures from well-known companies such as American Girl, Disney and the world of child beauty pageants. She also talks about how the internet comes into play and the images that young girls see in various formats, whether they be in print on-screen or maybe, in their own homes.

What I truly appreciated about this book is how frank Ms. Orenstein is. Parenting is hard, but it is made harder by the very well executed marketing plans of companies that sells children’s toys and the mixed messages our children and our girls in particular are still receiving. But, she concludes, it is possible to counteract the in face-ness of the pink/sparkly/princess-y image that our girls are receiving and raise them to stand on their own two feet and think for themselves.

I recommend it.

Throwback Thursday-The Making Of A Lady (2012)

The story of Cinderella has been told time and again, across the ages and across the world. The reason why it keeps being retold is that the basic elements of the narrative and the characters are easily malleable to any writer who wishes to put his or her own spin on the tale.

In the 2012 television movie, The Making Of A Lady, (loosely based upon the book The Making Of A Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett) Emily Fox Seton (Lydia Wilson) has just lost her job as the assistant of Lady Maria Bayne (Joanna Lumley). Lady Bayne’s widower nephew, Lord James Walderhurst (Linus Roache) proposes marriage to Emily. Emily accepts his proposal. What starts out as marriage of convenience soon turns into something more emotionally substantial.

Then James is called away to India and Emily finds more and more of her time is spent with her husband’s heir and cousin, Captain Alec Osborn (James D’Arcy) and his half Indian, half white wife, Hester (Hasina Haque). Emily beings to suspect of foul play, but are her suspicions correct and can she save not only her life, but the life of the child growing inside of her?

I have not read the book, so this review is strictly based on the television program. Friends of mine have read the book and have advised that the creative team took one too many liberties when re-imagining the novel for the small screen. While it may not be a perfect on-screen rendering of the novel, as a stand alone television adaptation, it could be much worse.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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