Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Devil Wears Prada

I know this is fluff, but I can't get it out of my mind until I write it down.

Did you see "The Devil Wears Prada?" It was one of Katie's favorite movies, and is one of mine, too (I haven't read the book). I know it's just a story, BUT...

I have several strong opinions about this movie and what I see as its message. I am not a militant feminist, but this movie makes me feel like one. The humor is wonderful, the acting is superb, the clothes are gorgeous, and I laugh a lot every time I watch it, but there is a message in it with which I totally disagree. I used to say something about this every time Katie & I watched the movie together.

I have a very strong aversion to Andrea's (Anne Hathaway's character) boyfriend and friends mocking her for her dedication to her job. I think her boyfriend is a BIG FAT BABY (and I say so every time he whines in the movie), and I think her friends are disloyal, provincial and judging.

In my opinion, when you move to a city like NY, you usually move there to get into your field in a big way. It's not a small town; it's the center of the business world, in the USA. You don't move to NY to "play house;" you move there to "make it" in your chosen profession, in the biggest, toughest, most competitive arena there is.

It wasn't going well, at first. She had a "poor me" moment, when she felt that her boss (brilliantly played by the incomparable Meryl Streep) was unfair to her. Andrea seeks the advice of the magazine's Creative Director, Nigel (Stanley Tucci - love him!), who tells her, "Quit. I can get another girl to take your job in 5 minutes; one who really WANTS it." He tells her (truthfully) that she is whining, not trying, and then he explains to her that the industry is more than she (& her friends) snobbishly judge it to be. The pseudo-intellectual disdain in which she holds the magazine is obvious to him, and he tells her, "You don't care, because this place, where so many people would die to work, you only deign to work. And you want to know why she doesn't kiss you on the forehead and give you a gold star on your homework at the end of the day." It is a light bulb moment for her character, and she attacks her job with renewed energy. She is not going to quit.

Her boyfriend had the nerve to judge her as working without "integrity." I saw no lack of integrity in her work ethic. She worked as hard as she could to meet every requirement of a very demanding, top-of-the-profession employer. Andrea did step over her co-worker, because she was better qualified, and was offered a promotion. Should she have not taken the job offered to her, and left it for another to take? Her co-worker was clearly not going to make it; that was not Andrea's fault, but it did leave a void that needed to be filled by a qualified person. She did not create the void, but it was open for her to fill.

I think she grew to love her work and the challenges it presented. She began to get a rush from mastering a relationship with a difficult employer, figuring out how to leap over the hurdles placed in front of her, and finding her own way to do things effectively. She was using her intelligence differently than she had originally planned, but she was using it, and she was growing. She loved her job, she loved her new look, and she felt good; you could see it in her face. I think her boyfriend and friends were jealous: of her time, spent away from them, and of her sense of purpose, which had transformed from her original dream of journalism, to adapting to whatever her job required. It's even possible that her success and fulfillment, apart from them, made them feel lost or left behind. Her growth, stretching into a new area, her ability to adapt, and the changes that inevitably arose from that, struck them as "crossing a line" of honor into dishonor. It seems to me that, because she was changing, she was a threat to them, and they criticized and minimized her. What kind of relationships are those?

The final insult to my sensibilities was when her boyfriend took a job in a different city, and she decided to FOLLOW him there. He took a promotion, which caused him to move his life (without consulting her) to a new location. Hmmm...growth, professional progress, change, goodbye...What happened to her dreams? Why should she follow on his path, when he didn't support her growth and change?

I know it's just a movie; I KNOW IT. But as a woman and a mother, it wasn't possible for me to show my daughter this double-standard wrapped in a funny, feel-good story without pointing out the flaws in the logic. I always yelled at the TV when the hypocrisy flared up, and we laugh at it; that was fun. Since we watched the movie again this weekend in Katie's memory, all of this got stirred up again.

Did anyone else see it this way? Or did you take it differently?

15 comments:

Cassandra said...

Karen,

I love your thoughtful critique of this movie, which, I hesitiate to admit, I watch repeatedly on cable. There is something compelling about this movie. And I quite agree with your interpretation of the anti-feminist bent to it. But I am hard pressed to find any movie that is generally directed toward an audience of young women (or women of any age, really) that is a true coming-of-age drama that does not have explicit or implicit sexist undertones. Think about it--there are so many great coming-of-age movies about boys and young men, but most of that genre for females always ends up with the "girl being saved by the guy" or the "girl finally gets the guy" or the "girl follows the guy". it's always about a girl and a guy...
That has often bugged me about these types of movies.

Ok, enough venting for now. I love how your blog stimulates us readers to think about ALL kinds of issues.

best,
Cassandra

Jennifer said...

Girl, you've got a future as a film critic! Brava!

I took issue with many of the same things you did concerning this film. I failed to understand why the director, David Frankel, couldn't find a better way of telling his story than making the friends so judgmental and shallow. (I wonder how the author of the book handled those relationships.) The echoing refrain from the circle of friends, instead of supporting Andy as she found her way in her new venture (which, as you noted, expanded her skills and her intelligence in new ways and demanded a level of dedication and perseverance from her that was admirable), was "You've changed" and "The Andie I KNEW wouldn't act like this." That sort of critique is typically leveled at an individual who has undergone a change where the good parts of their character have eroded in some way ... or the negative parts of their character have become magnified. This was an erroneous judgment on their part, for people who had supposedly known her for such a long time. As you noted, it seemed that they were slightly resentful that she WAS changing -- for the better (or at least parts of her were coming alive that had been dormant). And what kind of friends resent THAT?!

Additionally, although her job was demanding, she didn't abandon her friends; she made a strong effort to stay engaged with them (meeting them at the bar, going to her friend's art show, foregoing an oppotunity to meet the editor of The New Yorker -- or a similar rag -- in order to race to her boyfriend's birthday party, etc.).

I roll my eyes at the wimpy sap of a whining boyfriend EVERY TIME too. Dang. Even at the end, and this is a really TINY thing, but he asked her, "You're wearing THAT?" in kind of a kidding way, but yet again, there it is -- slightly digging at her, when she was on her way to an interview and he needed to be giving her the ol' thumbs-up.

Also thought the parallel that Miranda (and, it seemed, the writer and director) drew between her actions in subverting Nigel's plan/killing his new job prospect and Andie going to Paris in place of Emily was sloppy and just plain incorrect, for the reasons you described here. Felt to me as if it was supposed to be some big WATERSHED moment for Andie, where she realizes this is true and turns her back on all of it. I didn't buy it. And you described why it didn't work really well.

And? LOVE LOVE LOVE that you quoted the whole Stanley Tucci "gold star" line. You -- and Katie -- rock! (I now associate the two of you with this movie, the fun and humor of it.)

So -- ahem -- you're not alone in thinking through the particulars of this apparently "fluff" movie! :) Thank you for writing this out; very enjoyable post and thoughts!

Jennifer

Karla W. said...

Dito :)

Busy Bee Suz said...

Seriously, You can call it when you see it. I admire this in you.
I did see the problem with her boyfriend and friends....who I thought acted NOT like friends really.
If anyone really watched it like you and some others...then yes they would see all of the flaws here for a woman who had goals and was trying very hard to better herself.
OR, you could watch it like me:
"oh, look at her shoes, they are so pretty. Oh she gets to go to Paris, how exciting"

Yeah, that pretty much sums up my Friday movie nights.
you are such a deep thinker Karen...I imagine your brain is working 24/7!!!

By the way...speaking of movies, have you seen The Other Boylan Girl? Or how about The Duchess?
Both are really good.
So glad I am living in this century....

HappyWifeHappyLife said...

Hubster and I both love this movie.... he because he LOVES Anne Hathaway and has a perpetual crush on her.... I because I used to work for Miranda for about 2 1/2 years (with a different name of course, and a different city and industry).
I see what you're saying about her boyfriend (the Adrien Grenier character... forget the character's name) and I do agree that he wasn't adequately developed in the movie.... honestly, I don't remember feeling strongly either way about him but thinking that they didn't develop him enough. All I remember about him was his grilled cheese sandwiches.

Perhaps it's because I was SO uber-focused on the boss-employee relationship because it reminded me so much of my (very) negative relationship I had with a very nasty boss.

HappyWifeHappyLife said...

I do agree with Cassandra... it was VERY refreshing to see Anne Hathaway's character come into her own WITHOUT a man "rescuing" her. I loved that. She was a capable, competent, intelligent young woman who was PERFECTLY able to make it on her own.

karengberger said...

Thanks for sharing your views! I'd love to hear more...(someone, somewhere must think I'm wrong, right?) FUN dialogue.

Elizabeth said...

I don't think you're wrong, Karen (in fact you're absolutely right) -- to me, though, the larger point is that the movie is just a BIG movie, a BIG American smash hit. I might be a snob, but it's almost not worth criticizing. I loved the movie -- don't get me wrong but look at it more as fluff. And fluff only. I had a problem with Juno, though, a movie that just about everyone thought was utterly fantastic. I enjoyed it and thought the acting was fantastic, but the overall message made me sort of sick. It trivialized having a baby and I just don't buy that two teenagers can go through such an experience and then find true, casual, hold your guitar love. But maybe that's worth a post of my own? We could both be the contrary critics, the Devil's Advocates.

Jennifer said...

Well, this isn't a continuation of the dialogue you started, per se, but I wondered, since you've mentioned you and Katie watched this many times, if you'd like to share what Katie herself enjoyed about the film.

Obviously ... feel free to completely disregard this question too! Either way, it makes me (and probably everyone else too) glad that she got a kick out of it, that it was a vehicle of humor and enjoyment for her.

Jennifer

Dawn~^i^Brandon^i^, Jordan, and Seth's mom said...

You tell them/him!

Actually, you made me smile and laugh, because I can so relate by seeing "more than" the movie....then I dwell....and I must admit....don't get me started on the lifetime movies (which by the way, I am NOT making a trivial statement about ANY harships on women). Steve usually has a price to pay if I get sucked into them (smile).

Have a HAPPY day & weekend!
Love,
Dawn

Anonymous said...

Oh yes - what a film! I enjoyed it a lot (the clothes, the acting) - though with some of the same reservations you had. I have also read the book through - in the book the boyfriend is, if possible, even worse and more condescending. Not to *spoil* the storyline for anyone out there - but in the book there is a greater focus on the sacrifices Andie makes of time with her friends and whether this is justified. The denouement of the book is different to that of the film too and focuses on friendship. I think the book has some more serious themes (though, frankly, they are dealt with quite superficially) I've read some other works by the author (they came on two-for-one with a free giant chocolate bar :-) ) - I don't think she intends to be anti-feminist, though the other books obliquely end up being more so as they focus on the "manhunt".

So, all I can contribute that's new to the debate is that the original story places a more subtle emphasis on work-life relationships, that is, indeed trivialised in the movie.

Two films which I think manage to keep up a degree of woman-power without being too sexist and are very "pink" and enjoyable are 27 dresses, and, especailly, In Her Shoes. Interestingly in both the focus is on familial relationships primarily - but I enjoyed them a lot.

As, I think, the one poster who has read the Devil Wears Prada may I humbly suggest that you save yourself the effort as I think it will bother you! Read In Her Shoes (Jennifer Weiner) if you want a sweet girl lit book! I am a big reader, but often sit down with something lighter to take my mind off my academic work!

Good chat going on here though!

Irene

karengberger said...

Since you asked, I'd be happy to talk about what Katie loved about the movie...
She loved fashion, and she was a BIG fan of Anne Hathaway's "Princess Diaries" movies, so this movie was full of interest for her. We all love Emily Blunt, having seen her in a BBC mystery, so her character added a great attraction (& hilarity) for Katie in the movie (if you want to see her earlier in her career, rent Foyle's War, Season 2, "War Games"). She loved Miranda's phrase, "That's all," and every outfit that Andie wore, especially the Chanel. She loved Andie's phone. She was interested in visiting NYC...and the lifestyle that came with the fashion industry interested her; she wanted to try modeling and acting, herself.
Thanks for asking...you know I love talking about her!

AnnDeO said...

Oh I do love your critique of the movie. I usually watch this movie alone because of the testosterone factor in my house, but I have a similar love/frustration feeling about School of Rock which is the movie my son's and I watch over and over.

On another subject:
My brother-in-law is going to be shaving heads at a St. Baldrick's event in Long Beach. His daughter had cancer and he is involved in many organizations that support finding a cure. Glad to see Stud Muffin made his goal.

Laurie Brandriet Keller said...

I totally agree with your analysis. Why aren't YOU writing for The Times? Love to you and a great weekend. xoxo.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for posting about Katie's specific interests in the film! I really enjoyed reading about what she gravitated towards. And pretty impressive that she especially favored the Chanel outfit -- so fashion forward. I do remember you mentioning before that she was interested in modeling ... from all the pictures we've seen of that gorgeous girl, she would have taken the world of modeling by storm ...

And I'm guessing Katie would have LOVED NYC. I live in a big city and have for over a decade, and have traveled to many other cities too, but New York absolutely blew me away the first time I went. Everything feels so much ... bigger ... there.

Thanks again for giving us a peek into Katie's connection with the film and, by extension, more of her personality too!

Jennifer