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July 09, 2006

Selling Out

Last night I finally went and saw The Devil Wears Prada. I was reluctant to plunk down six bucks for it, but it has received an inordinate amount of critical attention, and my friend Ken bought my ticket anyway, so I figured it was well worth spending two hours to increase my pop-culture literacy. I haven't read the book, and most of the reviews agreed that the movie was better than the book anyway, so I don't plan to rush out and buy it. The movie was actually quite good, though, and definitely a pleasure to watch, if only for excellent performances by Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep, who was fabulous as Miranda Priestly, evil editor-in-chief of a top fashion magazine. She has an awesome monologue where she dresses Hathaway down for her obvious disdain of the fashion industry, explaining that, although Hathaway believes herself to be above fashion, even her choice of a cerulean blue sweater was overdetermined by decisions made years before in the offices of "Runway" magazine. The movie cleverly presented the fashion industry as both ridiculously shallow and something that we can't live without if we don't want to go naked.

But the story didn't live up to the title. Streep's character may have been the devil, but Hathaway's character never actually sold her soul. I was expecting something along the line of Mean Girls, where Lindsay Lohan turns into a truly mean girl in order to achieve popularity in the world of high school. But Hathaway never loses her integrity, though we are meant to think that she has, and her friends and boyfriend certainly think she has. The boyfriend character, though cute, was, in fact, insufferable as the repository of virtue. The guys I saw the movie with characterized him as too earnest to be believable. When Hathaway trades in her frumpy "I'm too smart for fashion" clothes for a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes, her boyfriend accuses her of having sold out, telling her that he wouldn't mind if she were a pole dancer, as long as she did it with integrity. The problem is that she was pursuing her job with integrity. Granted, she sold herself short by taking a job running errands and buying (not making) coffee when she really wanted to be a writer, but all she was guilty of was making an honest effort at doing her job well. After all, working in the fashion industry requires that one know something about, or at least be interested in, fashion. And, yes, it does suck to have to work unexpectedly on your boyfriend's birthday, but that is what being a grownup and having a job is all about.

The movie was, however, an excellent commentary about how we get seduced by our jobs. By any job, not just jobs that involve diabolical bosses. I have certainly been guilty of neglecting my friends and family members for my research, and for buying into the notion that professional success will make me more happy than loving friendships. But the movie presented this as a particularly feminine problem: Streep's husband divorces her because she is too busy with her job; Hathaway and her boyfriend break up because he can't handle her missing his birthday party to work. We don't see men having this problem. For some reason it is okay for doctors' wives to feel like single mothers but not okay for fashion magazine editors' husbands to get stood up now and then. In the end, Hathaway's character takes a job at the New York Mirror, and the movie presents this choice as the ideal happy ending: she is now a real journalist and her life will be perfect -- as long as she never has to work late to meet a deadline!

Posted by eklanche at July 9, 2006 11:34 AM

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