There is little I love more than a movie makeover scene. In the early years of her career, it seemed like Anne Hathaway was constantly being transformed onscreen from the girl next door into the next big thing. In The Devil Wears Prada, Andy’s makeover from plucky graduate into “glamazon” marks the beginning of an uphill climb in her ambition to do well working under the at once prestigious and ominous Miranda Priestley (Meryl Streep). The film opens with a montage of faceless high fashion women carefully selecting their daily wardrobe, curated accessories and weighing out their low carb, high protein breakfasts. By contrast, Andy is shown to take the subway, dress for warmth during the Manhattan winter and infamously select an onion bagel to start her day (“did somebody eat an onion bagel?”). After Andy’s mid-film makeover, there is a parallel ‘getting ready’ montage which shows her on her way to work in a series of new season outfits, having upscaled her look and self confidence in one fell swoop. The Devil Wears Prada has seen something of a rewriting by critics in recent years. In exploring the themes and tropes of the working woman, the 2006 film exemplifies the pre-recession drive of the ‘girlboss’ who breaks the white woman’s glass ceilings in the business world. Since its debut, viewers’ attitudes of Andy’s unsupportive friends and boyfriend in the face of her performing well at her job have gone from being sympathetic to critical. With this ultimately being a more relatable balance with the flexi-hour schedule of the working world today, Andy’s tug-of-war between her professional and personal lives hits a little close to home.
There are plenty of lenses to analyse The Devil Wears Prada through. For Andy, her arc, which is so constantly criticised by the people around her, does not veer much from the plan she expresses at the beginning of the film. She wants to be a journalist, has no experience outside of college and wants to get a foot in the door. She arrives at the interview for Runway with this vague ambition. Without dwelling too much on the fact that a single year of gruelling but relevant work is deemed enough to make it to her dream writing job in NYC, it is not Andy, but the people around her who quickly lose confidence in the steps leading up to that. Her father is concerned about her late work hours and that she is not writing anything for the magazine and her friends are bruised that she is less available for midweek catch-ups.
In work, it is despite of, rather than because of, her dressed down appearance and lack of experience that Andy’s keen plea to learn on the job catches Miranda’s eye. These traits of ambition and an early budding self-respect are those which Miranda later notes remind Andy of her own younger self. Surrounded by petrified yes-men, Miranda’s other-oriented perfectionism is a projection of her standards onto the actions of those working around her. Desperate to impress Miranda, Runway is full of hard-working, deeply serious individuals. Andy does not fall into this category, and whilst the weight of Miranda’s wrath is not lost on her (see: the cerulean monologue), her asking questions at the wrong time, reluctance to fall in line in regards to her appearance, and ultimate long-term goal to write for the New Yorker sets her apart.
The first glimpses into Andy’s personal life show a group of ennuied twenty-somethings. They poke fun at Andy’s colleagues, complain about their own enervating jobs and toast to the low standard of being able to pay the rent. Whilst Lily (Tracie Thoms) is an aspiring artist, Nate (Adrian Grenier) a chef and Doug (Rich Sommer) a corporate analyst with a finger on the fashion industry’s pulse, they are rarely seen outside of a bar, their work day ending promptly with their check-out. Their tongue-in-cheek approach to work is also apparent in Andy, who, whilst floundering at her assisting job, stubbornly retains the right to ironically roll her eyes at the fashion industry. When she is scolded by Miranda for failing at a particular task, Nigel (Stanley Tucci) pointedly withholds sympathy for her, saying “you are not trying, you are whining.” After this unintentional pep talk, Andy is forced to realise that in refraining from dressing in the right type of clothes, she paints herself as less than committed to her job. Cue makeover scene (“are you wearing the Chanel boots?”). And cue the exact point when Nate, Andy’s boyfriend, stops being supportive of her work. In a particularly pointed argument Nate announces that he “wouldn’t care if [she] were out pole dancing all night as long as [she] did it with a bit of integrity.” This outburst ironically missed the point that as soon as Andy did start to show integrity and take her job seriously, he did start to care quite a lot. Enough to break up with her, in fact.
The standard held, both in work and at home for Andy, is nearly impossible for her to meet. When she begins to do better in work, honing into the Runway mindset, her friends openly make fun of her. There is a distinct lack of consideration once Andy starts to do her job in journalism that too will require late work hours and research into subjects she is not personally interested in. The teasing also undermines the fact that whilst running impossible errands for Miranda, Andy begins to develop intuition, an eye for detail, resourcefulness and thick skin; all qualities needed for good journalism. Her slow but steady work turnaround is reflected in her friendships with Nigel and Miranda’s first assistant Emily (Emily Blunt). When Andy is first hired, Emily holds her at an arm’s length. Over the course of the film their interactions increase in frequency and pleasantry, despite Andy’s bubbly personality grating on Emily’s more cynical demeanour. Emily and Andy, along with Miranda each symbolise one of the three ‘working women’ tropes in cinema. If Andy is the spunky upstart, Emily is the workaholic ‘girlboss’ and Miranda is the jaded cautionary tale. Where Emily sees Miranda as something to aspire to, she misguidedly obeys every whim without question, ultimately running herself to the ground. For Emily, the prospect of going to Paris for fashion week is the golden carrot to the stick of her everyday work life. As Andy is sustained by the fact that she only has to stick out this job for a year, Emily must deal with the reality that her dream job consists of being highly strung and repeatedly undermined.
Paris is used as a symbol of ambition throughout the film. At first Andy does not even pay heed to it. Later she is relieved that she does not have to worry about it. When Miranda asks her to come to Paris instead of Emily, Andy hesitates but ultimately accepts. It is this Paris trip which sparks her break up with Nate and Lily’s cold shoulder. Where Miranda sees a sense of self in Andy, she sees a mere sycophant in Emily. It is also in Paris where Andy gives up, not on her ambition, but on its new direction. After seeing Miranda offer a promotion she had promised to Nigel to a competitor to save her own skin, Andy openly confronts this ruthlessness. When Miranda points this out as hypocritical following Andy’s behaviour towards Emily, she pulls back. In turning away from Miranda, Andy rewrites her future, assuring viewers that the young go-getter does not have to become the jaded cautionary tale.
Andy’s giving up of this job is painted as an act of self actualisation. However, when in a job interview at the end of the film, her considerably short stint at Runway is openly referred to as a “blip”. Andy’s ambition is seen as negative as it likens her to Miranda who is the eponymous devil. It is this ambition and this “blip” which inspires her to betray her colleague, abandon her friends and redirect her aspirations. In Paris, whilst on a date, Andy defends Miranda’s honour to a writer friend (Simon Baker). He responds that her “passing over to the dark side” is sexy. The thread of this flirtation is run throughout the film. When they first meet, he notes that she is too nice to work for Miranda and after a second encounter Andy quips that he was wrong about how nice she is. This “passing over to the dark side” is the result of Andy’s ambition. However, Andy remains apart from the underbelly of the fashion world. Despite her dabbling in the dark side, Andy’s principles of not wanting to be ruthless in her ambition mark her as Miranda’s biggest disappointment.
At the end of the film, Andy meets her ex-boyfriend for coffee. He tells her how he has secured a job in a Chicago-based restaurant. There is a sting in the olive branch offered and a skating over the double standard as Andy praises and congratulates him. It is interesting that the writer friend who Andy sleeps with in Paris is meant to be the sleazy version of Nate when in reality he supports Andy’s writing and encourages her work ethic whilst Nate only appears content when Andy is being self-deprecating. By any means, the end of the film sees Andy at a job interview for a newspaper that is looking for someone exactly like her. It is subtle but the juxtaposition between this interview and the one for Runway is tangible. Andy is well put together for it, well suited for the job and well prepared for the questions asked. Miranda’s reference at once dubbed Andy as her “biggest disappointment” and noted that if the newspaper did not hire her it would be making a huge mistake. There is a nod of respect here which is also reflected in Emily when Andy phones to gift her the fashion week clothes she no longer needs. Andy’s securing of her new job is the fruit of her labour at ‘Runway’. Despite her airs and graces, it is the manic chasing of manuscripts and Calvin Klein skirts which resulted in her having the skill set that helped her secure a writing post. Andy’s ambition was birthed from taking gruelling work seriously and without that labour, it could not have existed.
by H. R. Gibs
H. R. Gibs, also known as Hannah Gibson (she/her), is a freelance journalist based in the Belfast music scene. Come September she moves to Dublin to tackle an MA course in journalism. She is deeply committed to the works of Carly Rae Jepsen and any movie makeover montage. Her favourite films include but are not limited to Billy Elliot, Marie Antoinette, God Help the Girl and As Good As It Gets. She can be found on twitter @hrgibs
Categories: Anything and Everything, Feminist Criticism
Brilliantly written article on easily one of the best movies of all times.