Review: Netflix's Plan Coeur/The Hook Up Plan (2018)
This past December, Netflix released Plan Coeur: the French rom-com series made for those who love to laugh with and at the genre in equal measure. Filled with references to other canonic love stories, such as Titanic and Pretty Woman, the show leaves just enough space to laugh at the absurdity of Hollywood romance that the viewer can accept its unbelievable romantic plot. Set in Paris, Plan Coeur follows Elsa, played by the glorious Zita Hanrot, a woman in her late twenties with low self-esteem who just can’t seem to find love. Rather than filling the scenes with baguettes and rainy midnight walks, director Noémie Saglio gives us Elsa’s friend, Charlotte, standing on a street corner eating dry Wheetabix from a box with crumbs stuck to her lips. More important than Elsa’s love life is her relationship with Charlotte and their other friend, Emilie. Like Broad City, the hilarious idiosyncrasies of their friendship make the show original and compelling. Watching Plan Coeur, you want to be a part of their regular pizza dates. In one scene, the girls help Elsa choose the right set of eggplant and heart emojis to send to Jules, Elsa’s newfound suitor. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
But, spoilers here, the thing about Jules is that he’s not really interested in Elsa, at least not initially. He’s actually a prostitute hired by Charlotte and Emilie to, as Charlotte says, “save her. Or at least, to fuck her.” Jules, of course, falls in love with Elsa. And how could he not? She’s fucking adorable. The show’s tension is built on the secret of Jules’ identity and what would happen to the girls’ friendship should Elsa learn the truth. Like Titanic and Pretty Woman, the romantic plot hinges on questions of class, as Jules’ relationship with Elsa is also tied to his integration into her upper-middle class friend group, which comprises two budding entrepreneurs, an architect, and a successful government bureaucrat. As a prostitute, Jules’ position in this group is questioned even before he confesses to Elsa what he does for a living. In one scene, Emilie pulls Jules aside and tells him that he should abandon his feelings for Elsa, saying, “You will never be able to fit into our group.” As viewers, we’re meant to empathize with him, recognizing Emilie as judgmental and close-minded. Indeed, she comes from a politically conservative background. During the series’ climax, Emilie and Charlotte have a (temporary) falling out, and Charlotte accuses Emilie of being a tight-ass with rich parents who support le Front national, which, if you don’t follow French politics, is a right-wing populist party with deeply nationalistic and racist views.
However, for as much as the show condemns Emilie’s prejudice against Jules, its narrative structure adheres to the same conservative logic with regards to sex work. Much of his character development is spent convincing us that Jules only became a prostitute so that he could take care of his disadvantaged mother, whom he loves dearly. At times, it feels like Jules must be morally pristine in order for us to forgive him for being a prostitute. In France and in the United States, sex workers are building social movements to advocate for workers’ rights and to destigmatize their labor. As a romantic comedy, I recognize that Plan Coeur is not necessarily going to address these issues. But what draws me to the show is its original storytelling that doesn’t shy away from the authentic weirdness of the girls’ lives. It is progressive in its representation of women whose sexuality is neither stigmatized nor fetishized and in its nod to the #MeToo movement (#BalanceTonPorc in France). I would have loved for the series to do the same for Jules’ character. Instead, he has to jump through the same narrative hoops that are typical of this genre in order to convince Elsa and the viewer that he’s worth our time. Such plot lines are damaging to sex workers, as they reinforce the idea that their labor is shameful and immoral.
To me, Jules’ character development feels a little bit like that scene at the end of Pretty Woman when Edward tells Vivian that he never treated her like a prostitute. The actor who plays Jules, Marc Ruchmann, does an excellent job of selling us on Jules. We believe that he loves Elsa and that he doesn’t want to lie to her. However, for Jules to be accepted, he has to prove that he really is a good guy who just went down the wrong path, you know? I love this show. Its soundtrack, cast, and writing are all phenomenal. However, for all Plan Coeur does to construct a progressive narrative, its plot is still stuck in damaging, reductive representations of sex work. It tries too hard to prove that it won’t treat its love interest as just a prostitute. Well, sorry, Netflix. You just did.
*Note: The English-language title of Plan Coeur is The Hook Up Plan. As a true bougie bitch, I think this title isn’t a great translation and prefer to use the French.