Monday, February 04, 2013

Movie Monday: "The Devil Wears Prada" Edition

I watched "The Devil Wears Prada" again last night.

It's a good movie, with good performances from its stars - Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway. But its one of those movies that I have a sort of love/hate relationship with, for a number of reasons which, I must warn you now, must contain spoilers for me to discuss them here.


The first reason that I can't completely love this movie, and came close to hating it on first viewing it, is that I could not care less about fashion. Although Andy Sachs, Hathaway's character also claims to not care about fashion, she ends up conforming to the fashion sense apparently required to work at the magazine where she works as an assistant to the editor of the fashion magazine Runway (said to be based on Vogue, and on its editor). Additionally, there is this scene, in which Streep's character, Miranda Priestly, proselytizes for the control of the fashion industry over what everyone wears:

I guess the movers and shakers in the fashion industry really believe this. I think it is a load of crap. Sure, choices are made by clothing manufacturers of what to make and what not to make, and what colors to use, but the implied attitude that we all follow blindly along is, well, overblown, as far as I'm concerned.

Another thing I don't like about the movie is that, while Andy is supposed to stand in for all of us who ultimately do not drink the corporate Kool-Aid, the whole model of being married to one's work, being available 24/7, and being willing to do anything to advance, up to and including lying, stealing, and being vicious, is presented - on the surface, at least, and for most of the movie - as acceptable to all but the misfit. The noble misfit, whom we are expected to root for, to be sure, but the misfit all the same. The recurring line in the film, variations on "A million girls would kill for your job" emphasizes this over and over.

But then there is the scene at the end of the movie, where Miranda tells Andy that she sees much of herself in her and that the two of them are really very much alike. Andy objects to this idea, and asks, "I mean what if I don't wanna live the way you live?" Miranda replies, "Oh, don't be ridiculous. Everybody wants this. Everybody wants to be us."

There are clearly people who really believe this. That they are so fabulous that everyone wants to be a slave to their job, work hours that make it next to impossible to have a life, be expected to be rude and ruthless and cold-hearted, and who have no problem stepping on whomever they have to, to claw their way to the riches and acclaim at the top.

I don't want to be that. And this is where I love "The Devil Wears Prada" and movies like it, that masquerade as a bit of fluff but actually present issues that are important to think about in today's world. Movies that are promoted as comedies, films that promise a couple of hours of escape from the real world, but that really do make a point beyond the surface of points that someone who doesn't view thoughtfully might miss.

What saves the movie, for me, is that Andy does walk away, leaving Miranda alone in a crush of photographers and reporters and having to fend for herself for the first time in many years, puzzled that Andy, in the final analysis, did not want to be her.

Some movies never manage to get over their surface message. One example I can think of is "Phenomenon", which starred John Travolta as an average man who suddenly becomes super-intelligent and, as an extra-special bonus, suddenly also has telekinetic powers (he can move things with his mind). Except that it turns out that the quantum leap in his intelligence and the other powers are the result of a brain tumor that is killing him. Intelligence, therefore, is presented as a pathological condition, unnatural and dangerous.

This plot could have served as a springboard to think about what intelligence really is, and the ways in which those with great intellects can both help and harm society, depending on how it is used. But the opportunity is missed, and "Phenomenon" becomes just a story, and one that manages to marginalize the intellectually gifted.

Fortunately, "The Devil Wears Prada" manages to overcome its surface to become not only entertainment, but something to think about as well. Although I'm sure that there are those who see the film and think that Andy is a fool to walk away from what could be a promising and lucrative career, but those are the people who are not looking beyond the surface of the film.

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