Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada and has an Awesome Career

During one scene in the movie, The Devil Wears Prada, the Ohioan father of the purported heroine, Andie Sachs, plaintively says to her over dinner at a downtown restaurant, “I just can’t believe that someone who was admitted to Stanford Law is doing this kind of job.”

This comment led to much merriment, at least in my own head. Oh, the illusions we have. “Are you kidding?” I thought, having spent a good number of years at Stanford Law myself. “Her job is way better than going to Stanford Law School.”

Therein lies my core thought about this up-to-the-minute movie, which is a kind of Working Girl for people who grew up watching Party of Five (actually, I suspect that itself is a dated cultural reference… Help me out, people. What’s the right phrase -- “for people who grew up with The O.C.?” Okay, moving on.)

The thing about this movie is that although you are supposed to be horrified by Meryl Streep’s meanie character, Miranda Priestly, she’s actually the highlight of the drama. Although the author of the (very poorly written) book and presumably the screenwriter intended this to be a morality lesson of what happens when you are a bitchy powerful woman (answer: you end up loveless and surrounded by sycophants), it doesn’t come out that way. Instead, the lesson I draw is that if you work really hard, get over your ego issues, and focus on what you are doing rather than what you think you are supposed to be doing, you can have great career fulfillment. Furthermore, a career that engages you, however odd it seems to the outside world, is ultimately more reliable than boyfriends or husbands.

Whenever the character played by Anne Hathaway (who’s basically a new Sandra Bullock making better career choices) complained about her job, grimaced in frustration or talked about her beloved college articles about a janitors’ strike, I found myself checking out. “Whatever,” I thought, much like her anorexic colleagues. I wanted more makeovers, more coats-flung-on-desks, and more scheming backstage corporate machinations!

Perhaps I have so little patience with the complaints of a 20something fictional character because they remind me of how much time I spent in my 20s and early 30s obsessing about how things should be in my career. I would have been better off trying to understand the world of employment for what it was, engaging in it, and making the best of it. In a lot of ways, thinking is overrated and doing is what actually brings contentment.

In the end, Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly doesn’t look defeated, even though she’s apparently been ditched by her third husband, will soon be written about on Page Six, and is raising twin girls that will surely end up as shallow and annoying as the Bush daughters. She looks triumphant. She knows who she is and what she does, and those are goals worth striving for.