Sunday, July 29, 2018

Gunn's Golden Rules

Film: The Devil Wears Prada
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

I am one of the least fashionable people I know, which makes a movie like The Devil Wears Prada a hard sell for me. I don’t care at all about fashion and never have. Oddly, I have a complete man-crush on Tim Gunn from Project Runway because I think he’s someone who belongs in that small but important pantheon of iconic people worth emulating, sort of Fred Rogers with bespoke suits (although he claims he doesn’t wear them). If you’ve never read Gunn’s book Gunn’s Golden Rules, I recommend it as much as I’ve recommended any book ever. Gunn is a wonderful writer, smart and compassionate, and he dishes with the best.

One of the best stories in the book is about Vogue editor Anna Wintour being carried down five flights of stairs by her bodyguards because the likes of her does not ride in an elevator with mere mortals. Gunn goes on for several pages about the fact that people at Vogue live in a small bubble where the only thing that matters is fashion and their opinion on fashion and dealing with anything like the real world is not merely frowned on but not even considered. I bring this up because it is widely believed that Meryl Streep’s character Miranda Priestly is based on Wintour. In fact, it’s so widely believed that notable people in the fashion world mainly refused to appear in the film as themselves for fear of encouraging her wrath.

I hate people like this, which is one of the many, many reasons I love Tim Gunn, who seems like such a genuine person. Like it or not, The Devil Wears Prada is about people who work on a fashion magazine and who think that what they do is the most important think that anyone in the world can do. There is a sense of smug condescension in every frame.

So here’s the deal: Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) is a recent Northwestern grad and a wannabe journalist. She lands a job as a second assistant to Miranda Priestly, editor of Runway magazine and notorious for being difficult in the best of circumstances. Andy looks down on the very idea of fashion, but Runway is a real magazine and a real place to start, so she plans to hold down the job as well as she can for a year with the goal of moving on from there.

In fact, her hiring is kind of a fluke. She has no real fashion sense, and dresses like it, earning immediate derision from Miranda’s first assistant Emily Charlton (Emily Blunt) and Miranda’s art director Nigel (Stanley Tucci). And Miranda Priestly is exactly who we are led to believe she is. She is dismissive, cruel, and demanding beyond all measure. And slowly, Andy learns to deal with these personality traits and to thrive just a little in the cutthroat fashion world.

Of course, since Miranda is self-obsessed and horribly demanding, this takes a terrible toll on every other part of Andy’s life. When Andy is unable to get her a flight from Miami back to New York during a hurricane, it’s because she didn’t try hard enough. She changes her plans at a moment’s notice, expecting that everyone else will just change their lives to suit her whims. There is so much entitlement in this film that it absolutely defies description or even listing out. And that is exactly where I break with The Devil Wears Prada.

I understand that there are people like this. I get that there are people who believe that they should be treated better than everyone else because they are better at something than other people. And for the most part, I dislike these people because for the most part, they aren’t doing anything that important. Miranda Priestly in this film isn’t curing cancer or saving ecosystems; she’s editing a magazine about fashion. I used to edit a magazine. It’s hard work, I agree. But ultimately, it’s publishing a magazine. It’s not saving a life.

The film is also rife with the sort of stereotypes of the fashion industry that are terribly damaging. Early on, Andy more or less guilts Nigel into helping her become more fashionable. He hands her some clothing that the magazine has laying around, complaining that virtually none of it will fit her because she’s a size 6, a size that gets her called fat. Later, Andy compliments Emily for looking thin. Emily’s response is that she has a new diet—she eats nothing until she is just about to pass out and then eats a cube of cheese. She also claims to be a bout of stomach flu away from her ideal weight.

This is ugly. This is dangerous. Even as comedy, this is not something to be encouraged. My older daughter exists in a world where body image and body shaming are real things and it’s something I have struggled against with her for years. My younger one is slightly less involved in the same world (and probably won’t be professionally), but I deal with it with her as well, and “ugly” is the best word for it.

Long and short? Everyone in this film is an entitled asshole. It’s well-acted and even a t-shirt and jeans idiot like me will admit that much of the fashion is beautiful. But seriously, fuck all of these people with their Manolos.

Why to watch The Devil Wears Prada: Well, the fashion is certainly something.
Why not to watch: Self-important assholes strike me the wrong way always.


  1. While your review sounds awfully negative, I'm going to guess you're responding viscerally to the world the movie portrays rather than to the movie as a movie. And given the vehemence of your reaction, I'll further surmise that the movie did its job in portraying a raft of unpleasant characters, many or most of whom could plausibly exist in the real world. So all in all, the film has artistic merit: it gives the viewer an emotional experience.

    (Of course, I could be wrong in all my guesses and surmises. Don't want to put words in your mouth.)

    I saw this film in bits and pieces back when we had cable, but our TV was dying a slow, painful death at the time and would frequently conk out. I'd watch "Prada" whenever it came on, and I finally managed to piece the story together after several fragmented viewings. The film was fascinating the way a train wreck can be fascinating, and I think my own reaction to these people isn't far off from yours. That said, the film presents a compelling, if somewhat predictable, story, and Streep comes off as a convincingly holy terror. Hathaway was capable, as she usually is, and Blunt was, I thought, perfectly cast in a role that required some comedic chops. The dude who played Hathaway's boyfriend, however, was utterly bland and unmemorable. That might not be his fault (he was on "Entourage," wasn't he?); it could just be the way his role had been written.

    1. Kinda both? I understand that this is a well-made and well-acted movie, but I don't like these people. They are entitled, awful people and I won't lie in saying that the movie portrays this world well. But that's not an interesting world or one that I want to spend any time in. In this respectd, it's hard for me to judge. It does exactly what it wants to do and does it really well. And I hate what it does.

      There's a moment late in the movie where Andy defends Miranda and her behavior, saying that all of the qualities that are so dispised in Miranda would be seen as indicative of strength in a man. She has the ghost of a point, but only the ghost. Again, I'll go back to Tim Gunn's book where he talks about seeing Itzhak Mizrahi having a tantrum because he saw a security guard wearing brown. This isn't power. It's petulence.

      I'm going to dip mildly into spoiler territory here--there's no consequence for anything that anyone does here. Miranda absolutely devastates the aspirations and career of a close confidant...and it's shrugged off. Andy takes a shit on all of her friends...and it's shrugged off. The terrible behavior is ultimately rewarded, and it's rewarded for people who are uniformly awful in everything they think, say, and do.

      Andy's boyfriend is a non-entity, and he has no consequences for anything, either.

  2. I get where you are coming from in your review...but I loved this film. Fashion is a $3 trillion annual global industry (2% of the global GDP), and at the top, people like Miranda wield a massive amount of influence. The film does an excellent job of portraying (through Andy's eyes) the people and attitudes at the pinnacle of influence. We may not like the industry; we may not like the people; we may not like the ugly implications of those who are obsessed with garment colour and size; but much like The Wolf Of Wall Street, the movie lifts the veil on a mammoth business that can be perceived as absurd, and does it really well.

    1. Oh, I think it's a well-made movie and I completely understand why people think highly of it. But I hate these people and don't like spending time around them.