Midway through The Devil Wears Prada, Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) tries to find someone to complain to. Her boss, the indomitable and incomparable fashion editor Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), got stranded in Miami because of a hurricane and ended up missing her twins’ piano recital. It was Andy’s job to find a way for Miranda to get home, as Miranda reminds Andy before shooting her a searing glare.
Andy, her brown hair floating behind her like a worn-out blanket, finds Nigel (Stanley Tucci), Miranda’s trusted art director. She begins to whine and cry, but he cuts her pity party short.
"You have no idea how many legends have walked these halls," he tells her, referring to the offices of the Vogue-esque Runway magazine where Miranda is editor in chief. "And what's worse, you don't care. Because this place, where so many people would die to work, you only deign to work. And you want to know why she doesn't kiss you on the forehead and give you a gold star on your homework at the end of the day."
Nigel’s tough-love pep talk unlocks the entire film.
The Devil Wears Prada, which turns 10 years old this week, does an admirable job of portraying the fashion industry and an even better one of nailing the demands of being an assistant at a fashion magazine. But what it does best, despite being set in the largely inaccessible world of luxury fashion, is tap into a very relatable fantasy of overachievement: sacrificing everything for your job, excelling in it, and earning your boss’s trust and respect.
The film’s greatest achievement is that it tells an important story about a woman who learns to do a challenging job — and do it well, and revel in the thrill of accomplishment — while being chastised by her passive-aggressive, unhelpful friends and the dolt from Entourage.
Andy and her friends are spoiled and entitled; the first part of The Devil Wears Prada makes this very clear. They’re laughing in New York City, confident that it’s only a matter of time before someone hands them the dream jobs they deserve.
When Andy is granted an interview at the Elias-Clark publishing company, she doesn’t even bother looking presentable or researching which magazines are part of its portfolio. She talks about pieces she wrote for her college newspaper that have no relation to the types of stories Runway publishes. She tells Miranda Priestly to her face that she’s never heard of the legendary editor, even though Miranda is extremely well-known even outside the fashion industry (just like Anna Wintour, on whom the character of Miranda is partially based). And then Andy has the gall to ask to be considered for the position.
Streep’s portrayal of Miranda, an amalgam of Vogue’s Wintour and the late British fashion editor Liz Tilberis, is, of course, what makes this movie spin. Streep makes Miranda’s approval and attention seductive. Her glamorous disappointment slices and singes.
This clash between privilege and expectations, between the puerile and the dignified, between the polished and the rough, yields what ultimately amounts to grade-A overachievement porn.
You root for Andy to get her act together, to start dressing the part. You get mad at her friends for taking her Marc Jacobs bags and Mason Pearson hairbrushes and then browbeating her for being late to their birthday parties. You want Andy to lean in and go to Paris, even though there’s only room for one assistant and it’s her co-worker Emily’s dream. (Emily Blunt, who plays Emily, is also fantastic in this film).
When Andy begins to understand and rise to the pressures of overachievement, Nigel’s speech begins to resonate.
It makes you appreciate the movie’s goofy opening credits, a montage of random women meticulously lining their eyes, painting on lipstick, and kissing their boyfriends goodbye in the morning. It explains that the women who work at Runway, the "clackers" (so named because of the sound their heels make when they hit the floor), don’t obsess over great clothes because they want to play dress-up, but rather because their jobs demand they look the part. It gives better insight into why Miranda operates the way she does. It also highlights what a fantastic idiot Andy has been.
And around 15 minutes after Andy finally starts trying, I stop watching.
I’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada at least 20 times since it was released (for two years, I lived with a pair of roommates who would rotate watching The Devil Wears Prada, Pitch Perfect, and Frozen every Sunday night) — and I just can’t bring myself to watch past the point where Nigel tells Andy about his new job as creative director for James Holt’s fashion company while they’re in Paris. What follows is a betrayal, a gooey self-realization, and Andy reverting to becoming a holier-than-thou figure.
The movie fails itself. Like its main character, it’s too earnest for its own good. It desperately wants to be a story about values and an uncompromising bottom line of self that we refuse to cross, even though it’s so much better when it’s not.
In the end, Andy caves and takes her friends’ advice. She decides they’re right and Miranda is wrong. That it’s incorrect to sacrifice herself for her job. That it’s incorrect to sacrifice her martyr of an Entourage boyfriend and his greasy curls for Miranda.
But I imagine an alternate ending, many sequels, and possibly a shared universe that involves Andy dumping her friends and somehow, years down the road, laughing with Miranda over a glass of rosé before eventually becoming the Devil herself.
Or I just restart the movie.