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.
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insists on Andy organizing a flight for her despite the dangerous weather or sets her up to fail by demanding the still unpublished Harry Potter book, she comes off like a unreasonable harpy.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.