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July 06, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada

Meryl_prada Saw it last night, in a theatre with the highest giggling-blond-girl:seat ratio I've ever encountered.  The film itself is a lot of fun.  Meryl Streep turns in a killer performance, with everything from her imperious body language to her voice tonality totally restructuring itself to fit the character.  There's just a world of difference between good-looking young folks who can read lines and genuine professionals who approach this as an art. 

The movie, as you've probably heard, suffers a bit by constantly underscoring how unattractive and fat Anne Hathaway is -- it's sort of a "who ya gonna believe?  Our script or your lying eyes?' situation.  But that's not actually different in this flick than others, and at least her boyfriend is similarly model-quality to compensate, so it doesn't detract too much.

The story really revolves around the insubstantiality of the job, not the Prada-wearing devil.  The tension wasn't in Streep's character, but in the level of pressure and urgency emanating from what should be a stupid job.  Fashion, after all, is dumb -- and it's presented as so throughout the film.  The people in it are catty and shallow, the events silly and overdone, the lifestyle consuming and empt.  So to transform the assistant's job at such an insubstantial magazine into a position with the pressure of, say, your first year out of law school, or your residency, is a high crime indeed. 

Nevertheless, it's a bit odd to see a film about this demonic workload when nothing occurs that would be worthy of remark a Manhattan law firm, or an ER.  Anyone who's watched an episode of Scrubs has seen young, attractive people working 14-hour days and letting a Blackberry run their life.  But in that show, the payoff -- medicine, helping people, common good, etc -- renders the travails less significant, and certainly fair.  In The Devil Wears Prada, however, there's no social good balancing the other end of the scale, so the job, despite being a powerful door opener, is presented as utterly irredeemable, its superficiality compounded by the seriousness with which it's treated.

So the dissonance there was troubling, but since I'm one who thinks fashion stupid, I wasn't too bothered.  As a good labor-liberal and thus an opponent of insane, mandated workloads in most all their forms, I'm troubled by such workloads wherever they appear.  That goes for medical residencies, associate positions, and Anna Wintour assistants.  These folks need to unionize.  Grunts of the world, you have nothing to lose but your chains!

July 6, 2006 | Permalink


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I realize that "empt" is just a typo, but it's actually a pretty useful word for something that, like fashion, is so banal as to be beyond the merely "empty, " but rather is truly and totally "empt." I like it! Let's make it bloguage if we can.

P.S. Is "bloguage" a word? If not, it ought to be.

Posted by: Farinata X | Jul 6, 2006 10:24:38 AM

Well, you're not going to win us over with "Hey, I think your job is stupid, and I can't imagine why you're so busy, and really, it's not brain surgery, is it, but I feel your pain."

Although the movie is largely wish fulfillment and fantasy, the underlying reality isn't necessarily far off - it's demanding to be a personal assistant, especially to someone in a high power, deadline centric job. Lauren Weisberger found it crushing (indeed, from what I hear, Anna is brutal on her assistants); but you don't need to look that hard - as a former assistant, my boss was terrific and even I identified with Miranda's "Where is that paper I was holding in my hand yesterday morning?" for all its absurdity and non-specificness. You have to put up with a lot of nonsense, and sometimes the hours are arduous, but you can learn a lot.

Having now seen it twice (including last night), I suspect the film is going to hold up as one of the better movies of our age, catching the zeitgeist of the lives of the "underlings" - how the privilege they have is borrowed (like Andy's fantasy wardrobe), how the job is really all consuming and soul crushing, and how we would walk away if we could. And I think it's not going to incite the kind of labor consciousness Ezra would like, not because he presents it so badly, but because the job is so much a part of our "every person for him or herself" culture - if you can't cut it, you're the problem, not the tasks. I mean, come on, they're not brain surgery, or anything, really... are they? In order to give the worker credit, we'd have to take the work seriously. And in many ways, we don't. Just ask Anna Wintour.

(And PS, the lifestyle's not so bad, either. Sometimes.)

Posted by: weboy | Jul 6, 2006 10:26:05 AM

great review, insightful comments.


Posted by: aimai | Jul 6, 2006 10:30:25 AM

Heh -- of course it's not going to incite the sort of labor consciousness I'd like, it's a feel-good flick, and I was kidding. I actually loved the film.

Posted by: Ezra | Jul 6, 2006 10:42:27 AM

I didn't think the movie was trying to convince the viewer that Andy was fat and ugly - it was just showing the viewpoint of the ultra-fashionista world. I liked that every time they called her the fat girl it didn't even register with Andy. She knew she wasn't fat, she didn't care to be stylish, she knew she was a smart person - her world was enjoying time with her friends and family. Andy didn't have any self-esteem issues which was a nice change in a movie about women and fashion. The only thing that gets her down was failing at "easy" tasks or not being smart enough to stay 3 steps ahead of her boss. Even when she starts figuring out how to put an outfit together herself its not presented as a lifechanging moment for her character.

I also liked when the smooth older writer is feeding her lines - she's not only unimpressed but calls him out on it. And doesn't agonize about what happened in Paris with him either.

A lot of movie conventions I expected didn't happen and that was great!

Posted by: JenM | Jul 6, 2006 1:55:45 PM

Oh dear, oh dear. Fashion is not stupid. It has been a vital, visual, and emotionally--and oftentimes erotically--charged facet of human history since, well, since the figleaf.

Like it or not, today, as in centuries past, fashion separates the men from the boys, the virtuous from the villainous, the worker bees and wannabes from the storied and the stars.

And whether we're talking about the meanings of various tribal adornments, the likelihood that one will get a good table when dressed in a Saville Row suit versus sweatpants and trainers, or the concurrent impracticality and indispensability of those high, high heels in which, incidentally, they will bury me, fashion in all its variants and incarnations is anything but stupid.

Posted by: litbrit | Jul 6, 2006 11:26:18 PM

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