Tuesday, July 19, 2016

It's Worn Well

It shouldn't be a big deal when Hollywood puts out a well-made film that's a mainstream success yet doesn't rely on special effects.  But we're lucky to get one a season.

Anyway, that's what I was thinking when I read this Variety piece by Ramin Setoodeh on the 10th anniversary of The Devil Wears Prada.  Made for a relatively modest budget, it was a global hit.  It showed the industry that Anne Hathaway could carry a film aimed at adults (she didn't get top billing, but she's the lead), that Stanley Tucci had range and wit, and that Emily Blunt existed. (Meryl Streep got the Oscar nomination, but she was already Meryl Streep.)

But what really caught my eye was this line:

...it became a modern-day "Working Girl" for a generation of millennial women--and some men--who could relate to the idea of losing your identity to your job.

Why bring up Working Girl?  It's not some sort of cultural touchstone, is it?  Anyway, Prada was a bigger hit, even taking inflation into account. But more important, I think Setoodeh misses the appeal of the film.

Sure, the explicit message is be true to yourself, and walk away from things that take you from your path.  But the explicit message of a film isn't necessarily why people care about it.  Some examples:

Explicit message of The Public Enemy: Crime does not pay.
Implicit message: It's cool to be a tough guy!

Explicit message of The Wizard Of Oz: There's no pace like home.
Implicit message: Man, Oz is one wild place!

Explicit message of Saturday Night Fever: It's time to grow up and get out of Brooklyn.
Implicit message: It sure is fun to go disco dancing!

The point of The Devil Wears Prada is not about losing yourself to your job.  It's a Cinderella story about a young woman who's tested in the high-pressure world of high fashion and, after showing talent and resolve, gets rewarded with romance, Paris, power and cool clothes.  Yes, at the end she has to turn her back on all this to do what she originally intended to do (and we don't doubt she'll be a success--though the journalistic enterprise she ends up with has probably gone bankrupt by now, so maybe she made a mistake), but the fun of the film, and what made people identify with Hathaway, was how she rose to the challenge and rose to the top.

When done properly, this is a message that sells.  And The Devil Wears Prada does it well.


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