Monday, July 10, 2006

Hell in a handbag

Warning: spoilers and strong opinions ahead

Went to see The Devil Wears Prada last night, which I thought was quite excellent. Not perfect -- it still had some sitcom-worthy putdowns and a truly uninspired soundtrack -- but extremely good, and, in my somewhat humble opinion, the best movie about women and work since Legally Blonde.

I read the book when it came out a few years ago, and it was fun in a Nanny Diaries-type way, especially since I was in the middle of my first "real job." Adjusting to the whims and coffee preferences of another person, after spending college contemplating Faulkner and the meanings of identity was difficult and frustrating; long hours and lousy pay didn't make it any better. But where Devil the book was unalloyed whining/revenge fantasy (and I appreciated it for those reasons), Devil the movie is a smart and complicated look at what it takes to get and stay ahead.

Meryl Streep is fantastically fun to watch and the clothes are pretty and I'll forgive a lot for a good montage sequence, but the most striking thing to me about the movie is that it provides what I think (at my admittedly early age) is a worldly truth: no one is going to make your career for you. One of the big plot points of the movie (which, I actually don't recall from the book, but that may just be my memory) is editrix Miranda Priestly's replacing her faithful Nigel with her competitor Jacqueline, as part of a scheme to maintain control of "Runway" magazine. At first glance, this is horrible and unfair, and that's certainly how protagonist Andy sees it. But the makers of the movie shade it for us. When Nigel explains how he's going to have his fabulous new job, Andy asks if he's told Miranda. "Of course" he explains, horrified at the idea that it might be a secret, she put him up for it. Well, cool, that's nice of her (and believable that Meryl's Miranda might have done it), but then it's not really your job is it, Nigel? It's Miranda's to give away, and, when she needed to use it to save her own head, she did. The publishers of the magazine don't keep their star editor around because they like her, and she's playing as viciously with them as they are with her. Or, to put it another way, how likely is Nigel to find his dream job when he's afraid to send out a resume without his boss's approval? As portrayed in the movie (and, again, I'm willing to wager, not the book), he is as much of a cautionary tale as Miranda. She trusts no one, but he doesn't trust himself.

The final thing about the movie that I liked was the obvious joy it took in portraying the seriousness that goes into frivolity. Again, I think this is a difference from the book and one that only makes sense. The book was written by a pissed-off 22-year-old and, in all the best ways, it showed. The movie, however, was written, directed, and produced, by folks who've been in the industry for long enough to know that while some people might find it absurd to obsess about a piece of fabric or the angle of a shot, in fact, these small decisions have enormous power and influence in society at large. The "cerulean" monologue could just have easily been about camera frames and music videos. And, maybe as someone seeking to justify the relevance of her own easily-classified-as-frivolous creative pursuit, I appreciated that.

Final piece of Devil trivia for anyone who's still reading: the editor at the meeting with Miranda who wants to shoot florals against an industrial background is none other than famously creative/ famously impossible former Artistic Director of the Public Theater, George C. Wolfe. Which, I think, is a hell of an in-joke.

3 comments:

Nitpicker said...

My favorite acting moment: when Miranda (Streep) is getting out of her car, near the end of the movie, and puts her "game face" on to face the photographers and reporters. It takes about 1/2 a second--so fast that you almost don't see it--and is completely wonderful.
An implicit theme: marriage is better. Because when you know you're together for the long haul, a missed birthday party, although regrettable, doesn't make you sulk. The work done is for the both of you, the unit, not for one alone.

Dorothy said...

Funny . . . that's what Beloved Husband said when she walked in with the cupcake.

Nitpicker said...

Remember the scene where Andy mistakenly goes upstairs in Miranda's townhouse & hears her spat with her husband? Miranda is saying that she tried to call her husband at the restaurant, to tell him she would be late, but couldn't because her cell phone wouldn't work. Husband doesn't say, I was worried you had been run over by a bus, or even, my birthday party was spoiled. He says: I knew that everyone in the restaurant was thinking, there he is, stood up by her again. Unlike Andy's boyfriend, he wasn't disappointed because she missed his special occasion; he was upset because of what OTHER PEOPLE would think. Since they were married, marriage per se isn't necessary better. It all depends on the person . . .