Honoring the Heroine: Miranda Priestly

I bet some of you might be wondering: Isn’t Miranda Priestly the villain of “The Devil Wears Prada”? Yeah…well, kind of. But we are nearing Halloween, therefore I decided to discuss some well-written villain characters. Even though I am not sure if Miranda Priestly even qualifies for this category, despite the title of the movie. And to explain why, I will have to do a thorough analysis of the movie. If you haven’t seen it yet: Skip to the very end of the article where I write my usual recommendation for the movie. Otherwise proceed at your own risk. There will be spoilers.

Banner-Miranda

To illustrate my point concerning Miranda, I have to talk about Andrea “Andy” Sachs first. She is the designated hero of the movie, who struggles against the demands of Miranda Priestley. And yes, when Miranda insists on Andy organizing a flight for her despite the dangerous weather or sets her up to fail by demanding the still unpublished Harry Potter book, she comes off like a unreasonable harpy. But there are also a lot of moments in which show another side to her.

Let’s examine Andy’s motivation: She is fresh out of college and mostly wants the job at Runway to acquire the job experience she needs to apply at a serious newspaper. In short, she has no interest in the magazine and no interest in working there long-term. If you see a person like this from the perspective of an employer, then why should Miranda even hire her? It takes time and effort until new employee to learn the ropes of the business, which is exactly why companies usually look for people on a long term basis. And yet, Miranda hires her, for whatever reason, meaning she gives Andy a chance none of the other newspapers and magazines she applied for was ready to give.

And she actually has the patience to allow Andy to settle into the job, despite her starting out very badly. Now, I have zero interest in fashion. I think that every person on the planet should simply wear whatever he or she feels comfortable in. Sure, certain cuts and colours flatter certain persons better than others. But nobody needs a handbag in an ugly brown colour, or pay insane amounts of money just because some label is stamped on it. But if I would work for a fashion magazine, I would make an effort to fit in. I would turn up at work in the fitting clothes and I surely wouldn’t sneer over the effort my employer puts into his or in this case her work. Miranda tells Andy some really hard truth in the beginning, but it is only after Andy has been with the company long enough to know better that her mistakes truly have consequences for her aside from some biting remarks.

Miranda Priestly is not a particularly likeable person. She is demanding, shrewd, and her private life is pretty much in shambles because she focussed on her career so much. On the other hand, though, as Andy herself points out: If she were a man, her behaviour would be socially more accepted.

There is something about The Devil Wears Prada which I think wasn’t even intentional, but makes a really good point about gender relations nevertheless. See, the movie apparently tries to tell the story of Andy being close to loosing herself in the fashion world, of going the same way Miranda Priestly went. But if that’s the intention, they thoroughly botched it up. Because, what are actually the “bad things” Andy is doing in the movie? Being too busy for her boyfriend Nate, friends and family, as well as going to Paris in Emily’s place. The latter aspect is something, which is blown was out of proportion. It’s not like Andy pushed Emily in front of a car or anything like that, she only did her job and was chosen because Miranda considered her the better fit. The former aspect actually make Nate and Andy’s and friends look worse than her.

It is established early on that Andy has no intention whatsoever to stay permanently under the thumb of Miranda Priestly. So we are talking about one year in which she has to work a demanding job in order to earn the opportunity to fulfil her dreams. One year. Shouldn’t her boyfriend and friends back her up during this time? Support her and show some understanding? I would understand their attitudes if the year were already over and Andy nevertheless decided to stick to the job, making the situation permanent, but as it is, their lack of support and understanding is kind of grating (and I say this as someone who has been in their position in the past). And since Nate is the most vocal when it comes to talk negatively about Miranda Priestly, while Andy, the protagonist of the story, tends to defend her, she doesn’t really come off as much as a villain in the end.

Part of this is naturally also Meryl Streep’s performance. It has become kind of a joke that she is nominated for an Oscar more or less every year, but, well, this woman really can act. Her lip curl is legendary, but she really shines in those moments in which the movies shows the high price Miranda paid for having the power she does. And once you consider the price, her entitlement isn’t really that grating anymore. She earned this. And in a lot of ways she is less bitchy than she seems to be when you consider that she doesn’t ask more than the perfection she demands from herself, too.

It is quite notable that Miranda’s power is for a large part based on the fact that a lot of designers she helped in the past owe her. In short, Miranda is someone with an eye for talent and the ability to lead promising people to their success. She is also very careful concerning the methods she uses. Instead of getting rid of her female rival in a backhanded way, she organizes another job for her. In doing so she stabs a long-term employee in the back, but even he says that Miranda will eventually make up for what she did. In short, Miranda is exactly as cut-throat as she needs to be for her success, and she is more inclined to turn enemies into allies than destroying them.

In relation to Andy, this means two things: One, the reason why Miranda is hiring her is most likely that she sees potential in her (even if she claims that she simply went for the opposite of the usual applicants). And two, when Andy decides that she doesn’t want to follow Miranda’s footsteps, it is Miranda who gives her the recommendation which ensures that Andy has the chance to do so. In the end, Andy is free to walk the path of her choosing because Miranda is paving the way for her, giving her an option Miranda herself most likely never had.

It is also notable that Emily, the employee who is set to follow Miranda’s footsteps, isn’t that bad of a colleague either. True, she is kind of bitchy and makes fun of Andy in the beginning. But she also gives her pointers left and right. The relationship between those two characters is difficult, because they have very different goals in life, but whatever their personal issues are, they never hinder them from doing their job in a professional manner.

In the end, Miranda Priestly is an interesting character who stars in a movie which, perhaps by accident, makes some really interesting statements concerning the way female to female interaction at the workplace works.

Quote: “That’s all.”

The Devil wears Prada has the reputation to be a chick flick, most likely because of the topic fashion and the female main characters. I say this movie has a compelling story, good acting across the board, a clever script, and is therefore for everyone. But mostly for people which actually have to deal with the difficult transition period from college (or any other kind of education) into a working career. When nobody wants to hire you, it is a good time to watch the movie…partly to remind yourself that no matter how good your degree is, it doesn’t equal job experience (it is always good to have a realistic view on your own abilities) and partly for the satisfying feeling to see someone succeed in what you are trying to achieve.  

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20 thoughts on “Honoring the Heroine: Miranda Priestly

  1. And I have never seen this movie either, but I have to say that you wrote a really good post about it. Maybe there is a chance that I will check it out one of these days.

  2. One of my favorites because I love movies about work. I agree with your analysis of Miranda and recommend reading the book. It is based on Lauren Weisberger personal experiences working with Joanna Coles of Marie Claire (names changed of course). But it is all about how you can start becoming this person you initially are repulsed by and I think that is sort of the message of the story. It’s like you start off with the best of intentions and you make one compromise and then another and another to get ahead. I think that was the problem her friends saw. Not that she was having to dedicate so much to a job but that it was changing who she was- the things she stood for, the things she cared about. Whether that happens in a year or a month that is something to be concerned about with our friends.

    Meryl Streep is so great in the role and there is always a sadness to her life that she has no real relationships. Everyone at best puts up with her even if they do respect her. Respect does not equal friendship.

    My favorite character is Nigel. Not only because he is funny but because I think he gets it. He understands Miranda and Andy and everyone else. He hopes for the big break but hasn’t let all of that change him or make him bitter. For how little he is in the film I think it is a pretty well developed character and Stanley Tucci does a great job.

    I didn’t think you would do this one because most consider it a comedy but while I do find it funny in moments I think it transcends the genre. Glad you enjoy it too!

    • Tucci is always great in those roles.

      I am not opposed to comedy. I usually don’t do Romantic Comedies because, well, I want to cover characters whose story is about more than about with whom they will end up with eventually (though I am sure that I will cover Elle Woods one day), but there are a number of seemingly light movies which have actually more to say, deliberate or not.

      I know what the movie was going for with her friends, but I don’t think that it worked that well, for the reasons I mentioned. For example if her boyfriend have shown understanding, but then she forget his birthday because she is to preoccupied with her goal, then the message would be more poignant.

      • He really is. I think it was the overall change in her not the birthday or one incident but I’d agree the friends and boyfriend are underdeveloped. The book it is more about her seeing the change in herself. Not others pointing it out so it works a little better. I also don’t like in the movie the affair with the photographer. I think it is trying to show in one action how much she’s changed but I didnt really buy it. The book it is more she is becoming this person she doesnt want to be and you get enough of that in the movie to work for me.

        I had just thought you said no comedies in your intro to the series but I’m probably remembering it incorrectly. I feel Bridget Jones Diary and Fever Pitch are 2 other movies about women and work that might be fun. I actually think Youve Got Mail is more about work and how it defines us than love. What about Annie Hall? I have a lot of recommendations if you do comedies. 500 Days of Summer might be interesting for how it does the manic pixie dream girl pretty well. (Tropes can be ok when executed well IMO).

        Anyway good post to a movie I love.

      • No, I said that I would exclude Romantic Comedies unless there is an heavy emphasis on the female character. So don’t expect me to write about something along the line of Sleepless in Seattle, while you were sleeping aso. (I and HATE You’ve got Mail….most of the romcoms are harmless fun (and I actually looooove Music and Lyrics), but this is one of the few which really, really angers me).

      • Oh too bad. It’s one of my favorite movies and I think it has a lot to say about work, writing, New York, books, business, change, life, memories and then is about love too but to each their own I suppose. Sleepless in Seattle I actually dont think is a comedy but a story about a lonely woman and a man overcome with grief. But anyway it was just some suggestions. You can write about anything you like and I’ll read it. 🙂

      • It’s the story about a woman, who opens up her heart to a man who turns out to be a douchebag who, after destroying the store she loved so much puts her into his soulless megastore without even talking to her beforehand if she can imagine to work there. And that is portrayed as a romantic gesture.

        You can suggest as much as you like. This is just not a genre I would normally tackle.

      • See I see it totally different. I think it is two people who judge eachother based on their job but really in their writing is their true self. They realize they are much more than the job they have identified with. She ends up working as an editor and seeing a whole new side to her. Human beings are more than just their job. I love how she deals with this change and he realizes his theory of the Godfather with work isnt all it’s cracked up to be. Life is personal even if he tried to keep it from being that way. I could go on for a long time but anyway it’s not this movie which I do also love although I love You’ve got mail more. Sigh…

      • She never works for him. In fact he says he would never do that. Anyway we all like different things.

  3. Plus, it’s just super well written (both book and movie IMO). I love the line “I’m just one stomach flu away from my goal weight” Ha

  4. It has been a while. I hope that you are doing well.

    About the movie, I actually really like it for the reasons you have mentioned. I never saw it looking through a gender role point of view, but you are right about it being fine if a man acted that way. It is a very bittersweet movie.

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