I’ve been finding myself at the movies a lot more lately.
Maybe it’s just because City Point is a convenient one-stop shop if I need groceries or other stuff in the same building where Alamo Drafthouse is which makes the schlep to Brooklyn worth it. Or that I’m rediscovering in my old age how seeing a movie in a theater, even when you’re alone, is a totally different experience that has its own merits over watching one at home where I’ll have 20 other tabs open instead of focusing on the movie. But with all that said, as you can surmise, I recently saw The Devil Wears Prada and got a lot of thoughts on it.
I decided to see it on a whim because early January tends to be a slow period for work or even just going out since it’s too damn cold to do anything. Plus, I can get lunch/dinner either at the Alamo or the huge array of food stands at the Dekalb Market, so who wouldn’t be sold? While this movie didn’t send me on a life-changing supersonic journey like my constant viewings of Freddy Got Fingered did, I definitely had my worldview opened up in a manner I didn’t expect. Not just because of the movie itself but in getting an unexpected peek at its long-surviving fandom.
For some context, The Devil Wears Prada came out in 2006. It’s not like this was a special 10 or 15 year anniversary or anything, there’s a group of devoted fans that gets this movie back in theaters time to time from what I gathered. It’s based on a novel of the same name that came out in 2003 and not just shown in theaters, but I mean got a DEVOTED fanbase.
As for the actual movie? The in-universe magazine Runway is supposed to be a stand-in for Vogue, Harper’s, and so on and Miranda Priestly is pretty much an avatar for Anna Wintour. It’s a classic story about a fresh-faced young college grad, Andy, getting that first job which winds up being hell on earth. Although according to the woman who was emceeing the showing I attended, The Devil Wears Prada is an incredibly accurate portrayal of what it’s like to work in the fashion industry: the breathtaking outfits that easily equate with the outstanding balance on most peoples’ student loans and glitz and glamour of core Manhattan and Paris mask utter savagery dished out on a daily basis with more force than any uppercut one would experience in the pit at a punk show where no one cares about clothing labels.
(I just know this story is fiction because there’s no way in hell that a chef in training and a junior executive assistant at a magazine can afford a 1-bedroom apartment on Orchard Street even at 2006 rents let alone 2018’s. Even though it’s later revealed her dad is paying the rent so it’s easy for Andy’s boyfriend to say she should have integrity after she starts assimilating to her work environment.)
I won’t spoil the movie if you want to see it– it’s definitely worth a view, even though 2006 me totally dismissed it as a narmy “chick flick” I wouldn’t be interested in. But if there’s one spoiler I feel is worth giving, it’s that the happy ending isn’t as contrived as I thought it’d be. I like that it didn’t pull the cliche where Andy goes back to her boyfriend after this experience has totally changed her. They both go to their destinies which clearly aren’t together anymore.
But if there’s one thing about this movie that struck a chord in me, it’s that Andy doesn’t actually want the job at Runway even though millions of girls would kill for it: she just sees it as a means to an end.
Anyone who’s followed my writing for some time now knows that I pretty much started an entire career as a means to an end. It’s a career I inadvertently get pulled back into here and there since I found that doing things like ghost-blogging for tax attorneys provided a much more flexible and better-paying option to keep my bills paid while I worked on Sonic Toad’s other projects and my game.
And well, there’s easily millions of people out there who just see a job as a means to an end. Whether it’s your first job like in this movie, or just something you have to do because of capitalism and you haven’t figured out what you’d do with your life yet if you didn’t have to do something you really don’t care about for basic sustenance.
Part of me was really glad I saw this film in my thirties with an established media career instead of that ornery-but-still-bushy-tailed thing I was at 21 when it came out. It made me think about the life experiences I didn’t have at that age (like factoring a significant other into my decisions and the fact that my first job came when I was still IN school which slowed down getting my degree) but also the things I got to do differently that made me glad I went off the beaten path.
But there’s this scene when Andy’s getting grilled by Nigel, the art director brilliantly portrayed by Stanley Tucci. He tells her that while she thinks her co-workers are just a bunch of vapid, materialistic assholes that fashion IS important because it’s art that you live in and Runway was a beacon of hope to boys like him growing up who read it under the blanket with a flashlight and secretly went to sewing classes while his parents thought he was at soccer practice.
That’s when Andy realizes she’s living someone else’s dream while this is just a means to an end for her but that she has to assimilate if she wants to survive this.
THAT hit me like a ton of bricks. Not just because that was pretty much what I was doing when I was a little older except I didn’t get the stability I was promised, but I remember the countless conversations I’d have with people about the things we’re told we should want: a spouse, a house in the suburbs, a “good job”, kids, the whole traditional life. And some people do want all or some of those things and there’s nothing wrong with that! But I had talked to so many people who felt the same: miserable because they were living someone else’s dream and not their own.
And when you vocalize that, you’re dismayed to find that no one wants to sympathize. They think about how they hate being perpetually single or having a shitty job, or whatever else doesn’t fit society’s formula for success. Hell, when I WASN’T doing that great just a couple years ago before I actually started living my dream? I didn’t get sympathy “because you have accounting degrees!” and people really thought I had my pick of great jobs.
In the business workshops I teach and one-on-one coaching, I get into how freelancing and entrepreneurship can change your personal life. Having the audacity to go for what you want is scary as fuck to some people. You can definitely find yourself surrounded by people who not only can’t relate to both your new struggles and looking for a way to stay motivated, but also don’t get why you’re going outside the norm. Watching the way Andy’s friendships and romantic relationship play out– in both the terrible and good ways she changes– made me think about my own journey, and the character development certainly raises questions as does the way that the fans feel about it (which I’ll get into in a bit!)
But there’s something else I thought about as it relates to my work on freelancer quality of life.
Is anything ever worth giving up such a huge chunk of your life?
Despite the seemingly-hyperbolic portrayal of Andy being at Miranda’s beck and call and how her friends and boyfriend react to her constantly jumping to those whims? Many people who work in fashion related to this film so much and said that the hellish hours and being expected to drop whatever you’re doing for your boss ARE the norm. I was in the far less glamorous tax adviser world and was forced to work for 70+ days in a row and that shit is accepted as normal. NONE OF THESE SITUATIONS SHOULD BE.
Nonetheless, watching her Pavlovian response to that horrendous-yet-nostalgic 2006 ringtone from a brick phone made me think of something I frequently see not just with new clients looking to make that jump to having their own business, but even experienced freelancers and free agents. People try to cram so much into 24 hours that they forget about the actual human experience. I always swore up and down I didn’t want a job like the one in this movie unless I actually owned the place: that was part of what led me down this path. I figured if I’d be expected to spend so much time on my work, I at least want to own the product of my labor.
So, my dear Toadlet: you don’t have to jump to every single client email and forget to actually live. Stay on top of your deadlines but if your clients start acting like Miranda Priestly, RUN LIKE HELL. You don’t have to put up with it. Everyone is under the impression that you have to work so much more and harder for yourself than as an employee. And yes, sometimes you do in the sense that you can’t just phone it in if you’re hungover on a Monday morning and hope no one notices. But one of the things I aim to impress in my classes and coaching is that you own your time now.
Whether that gig is just a means to an end or the gateway to your hopes and dreams: remember that it’s temporary and you don’t need to be permanently attached to your phone like Andy Sachs.
But enough about the actual movie and my takeaways! Let’s get into THE FANDOM!
When I went to the theater, an emcee who put the whole thing together gave this very passionate talk about how much The Devil Wears Prada spoke to her and made her not want to pursue a career in fashion. She talked about how when she first came to New York, she did babysitting gigs and how she was amazed when one of her first clients was the actress who played Jacqueline in this movie and she took it as sign that coming to New York to pursue her dream was meant to be even if it wasn’t what she thought it would look like.
There were these drinks being served that were the same color as my hair called “The Fucking Cerulean Delight” (or something similar?) based on this now-iconic scene:
I frequently geek out on TV Tropes and I’ve seen pages for all kinds of media. Some are stubs and others are incredibly built out.
I was amazed to find one of the hugest and most comprehensive Headscratchers pages I’d ever seen where a bunch of fans got into these in-depth discussions about Andy’s friendships and her relationship with Nate as well as the pursuit from Christian (which in the #MeToo movement, merits discussion on the difference between friendly pursuit and sexual harassment, not to mention the blatant power imbalance Christian clearly holds in the magazine business.) Usually, Headscratchers are a couple sentences. This was all-night discussion.
And my god, people ARE STILL HAVING THEM 11, 12 years later. That “cerulean sweater” scene? Still being analyzed.
Hell, did you realize there’s also a band named The Devil Wears Prada that’s been around since 2005 and still touring? (I vaguely remember the name being mocked among NYHC veterans.)
So maybe it’s not as obviously in our faces since it’s not relentlessly merchandised over a decade later like other movies and intellectual properties have been, but how many movies that old elicit more than a “Hey, that was a great movie!” reaction?
Or have a burgeoning niche theater chain cater to a bunch of fans’ demands to make a special drink just for the viewing?
Most of all, when was the last time that you saw any creation– a book, a game, another movie, you name it– that had a seemingly tried-and-true plot still elicit so much discussion all these years later?
As creators, we can only hope that our work still makes an impact that much later in life. For what reason? Maybe an overly realistic portrayal of something that people relate to or an ideal that we laugh at but would totally strive for if we thought it was attainable.
Or just some memorable shade-throwing dialogue.
But the only way you’re going to find out is if you get over the fear that people will think your work is bad and just get it out there.
Even if you’re less than thrilled to do it at a glacial pace.