Emily in Paris: It’s Not Emily Teaching Us a Thing or Two...

Emily in Paris: It’s Not Emily Teaching Us a Thing or Two About Paris

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Emily in Paris
© Netflix

With lockdown happening again in France, it’s back to Netflix and pajamas for a lot of us. To help you decide what to watch, I’ve reviewed Emily in Paris. I’ll be quick. Here it is.

Emily in Paris is a dumb show.

It’s visually pleasing, but the characters are shallow or sexist or mean or cliché, from the lusty Frenchmen to the fat happy Southerner. The plot is a cheap copy of Legally Blonde. The worst part, the part that has the French up in arms, is that apparently not a lot of research about France went into this. In fact, I think one of the writers just asked their Aunt Brenda what her 1979 semester abroad was like, and that was the extent of it. Because 1979 was the approximate heyday for these tired French tropes.

That’s it. That’s my review.

But I’m not here for negativity, so let’s get to what really inspired me about this show.

Actress Philippine Leroy Beaulieu as the incomparable Sylvie in the Netflix TV series Emily in Paris. © Netflix

The real star of the show

The shining light of Emily in Paris is the protagonist’s boss, Sylvie, played by the magnificent Phillippine Leroy-Beaulieu. Granted, Sylvie’s character is a poorly-written meanie, but I also feel like a poorly-written meanie sometimes, so it clicked with me. (By that I mean that the things I plan to say and do generally turn out fine, but I have enough gaffes and stumbles that sometimes it seems like somebody careless has written my dialogue and thrown in some cooking accidents and wardrobe malfunctions for cheap humor.) Sylvie gives hope to poorly written meanies d’un certain âge everywhere.

Why? Because even though PLB has long swingy hair and her figure shows that she has never eaten a snack in her life, she’s real. Her jawline is soft. She has tiny crows feet. Her neck is not a Grecian column. She is short-tempered. And yet, she’s glorious.

We women-of-a-certain-age could use some real-world role models. We’ve been working or driving minivans or schlepping kids around for decades, and now the pressure is off. Those kids are mostly taken care of, work has worked itself out, and we have time for reading or weekends to ourselves or hobbies. Often, though, the Emilys of this world are held up as the standard for womanhood, and that makes us feel either wistful or bitter.

Help is here, ladies, in the regal form of Phillippine Leroy-Beaulieu, late fifties and divine.

Paris fashion © Alexis Duclos for INSPIRELLE

Ageing à la française

I was surprised when I moved to France, to see women of all ages dressing beautifully and looking terrific. Senior citizens in strappy sundresses sipping drinks in a cafe. Eighty-year-olds buying groceries in heels and lipstick. Fifty-ish power women with silk blouses, fabulous scarves and shoulder-length hair. I wanted to join in. I wanted to find my version of French fabulous.

Let’s learn from Sylvie.

The character Sylvie embodies la vraie Parisienne in the new Netflix TV series Emily in Paris. © Netflix

All about Sylvie

First, the face. She doesn’t wear much makeup, just a nice smokey eye and pale lipstick, with great skin. Note to self–improve the skincare routine, ease off the blush and red lips.

Then, the hair. It’s a nice natural dark-blond, light-brown. If gray shows through, it’s going to add depth, but it’s not going to cause a scandal. Again – that natural look.

The body. PLB has a killer figure, but that ship has sailed for me. The thing I love, that we can all shoot for, is her energy. She strides when she walks. She has great posture. She always seems to know what to do with her arms, which I have never mastered. (Maybe I’ll re-watch her scenes and take notes on her arm movements.) That kind of regal bearing could overcome a lot of shortcomings.

The clothes. Sylvie dresses in an understated, elegant, chic manner, in contrast to Emily’s sexy-toddler style. Her tailoring is impeccable, which is something we can all learn about. She shows some skin, a plunging neckline or slit skirt, just enough to make you think that the rest is probably terrific. The fabrics in her daily wardrobe are soft and forgiving, not clingy or filmy. (And since I never go anywhere fancy, I’ll never need the supportive undergarments that she must be sporting under that one-arm green evening gown in episode 7.) Colors? She wears a lot of blacks and olive tones, so the occasional pink or green makes a real statement. Classic, but never boring.

The jewelry. Some, not too much, and it’s all bold. Either statement earrings and a wrist full of bracelets, or a long necklace. She is not a Christmas tree.

That’s it for the look. But what about that attitude?

Photo courtesy of author

Attitude is everything

Never apologize, never explain. When Sylvie’s man pissed her off, she refused to speak to him until he came around on his own. When Emily asked her (silly Emily!) to go out for girls day, she just said Non. Past 50, I don’t think you have to do anything you don’t want to do.

Take no prisoners. When Sylvie needed to assert herself, she let loose with both barrels. She could get places that no one else could, because she didn’t hold back. She said what she wanted to say with conviction, and didn’t stop until she got what she wanted. I want that kind of confidence, but I can’t even push a sleeping cat off my lap when I need to go pee. Will work on that.

She knows her job. Whatever your job is, nobody does it like you. Take pride in it, let your co-workers do their bit, and fire somebody if they need it.

All grown up

What do we want, my middle-aged sisters? We want to be the best we can be now, not the best we’ve ever been. My 22-year-old self had a smaller waist and thicker hair, but she also could not produce a sit-down dinner for 10, or file her own taxes, or negotiate a better deal on that bathroom re-do.

I’ll take un certain âge. And I’ll take it fabulously.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Many of my Parisian friends moved to Paris because the are francophiles. I’m sure the mocking and light-hearted way in which the French are portrayed in “Emily in Paris” is seen as a grotesque cliché to these expats. I actually like Emily and see her as relevant. Although I was always fond of France (spent one summer here after a study abroad program in England) I never really planned to make it my home. Until, that is, I met my French husband. I’m from Northern Indiana, an area that considers Chicago as our “Big City”. I know many Emilys ( I grew up with them) and my work experience in France was similar to hers: I was thrown in at the deep end in a French Investment bank. They needed English speakers to sell French Equities to Anglo-Saxon investors. At the ripe old age of 25 I had a portfolio of clients that included the largest pension funds in the US. We sold off the French state-owned companies and raised huge sums of money for French small caps. I thrived professionally and was making money for my bank. This caused a lot of jealousy. My French was far from perfect and I endured many “Sylvies” and her adulterous lover over my career. These types tend to take credit for others’ work (and lets face it Emily is very hardworking, bringing in new clients), are entrenched in old fashioned ways (Emily actually shows up for work on time, tries to build team spirit) and promote their own types, not the most qualified person for the job. You find the same family and business school connections everywhere. A new fresh face is not something they appreciate. I admire Sylvie’s flair and her ability to take control of every situation. She wears her age well and doesn’t back down.
    Some Sylvies have a darker side and can be extremely competitive. The ones I encountered enabled a culture of harassment, mocked women who took maternity leaves, and in many cases did sleep their way to the top. I would say that the show “Emily in Paris” does reflect work culture in France, at least in some sectors. Most of my anglophone friends here work in the culture sector and don’t encounter the same situations Emily confronts. You think this office culture is a thing of the past? Hum… The Matzneff scandal says otherwise. It’s the “Sylvies” (and her male acolytes) that protect these archaic notions of sexual freedom. More proof needed? DSK, the would-be prime minister brought down by an American housekeeper. How would a hard-working, earnest young lady from Auvergne fare in his “cabinet”? The French establishment, both male and female, defended him.
    In addition to the culture clash, “Emily in Paris” explores the universal challenge of the young teaching the old(er) members of society about new technology and the fast-paced spread of information on Social Media. It’s clumsy and painful to watch. C’est la vie. It has to be done and why not by a cute, bright young lady from the Midwest?

  2. Thank you. Obviously, you have access to my mind. You have explained clearly, but not nastily. Personally, Emily gives me an attack of diabetes. And what person is oblivious to her surrounding and dresses as though she was a clown in the circus? More sugar to the character. I don’t think I can watch another series of cutesy Emily. If she adapts to Paris, let me know

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