The Devil Wears You Out

In The Devil Wears Prada, we have a distinctively American refocusing of the story from The Princess Diaries.

The primary characters are still present: a bright yet dowdy and anxious young American woman who is magically inducted into an exotic and exciting aristocratic world; a stiff, imposing matriarchal drill sergeant; a bald, flamboyant makeover guru; a herd of snippy, fashionable vixens; a faithless blond tempter; down-to-earth bohemian friends who are betrayed by the main character; and a mumbling, shuffling, cute little moptop boy who disappears after the main character starts wearing high heels herself.

I haven’t investigated to see whether the writers and producers of these movies are the same, but if they are not, then Anne Hathaway is at the center of a remarkable vortex of synchronicities. Or, perhaps this storyline is somehow archetypal, and if I were better educated I could find in it classical or Shakespearean tropes.

The young American woman is slightly older in Devil, which may have something to do with the slightly darker themes. Instead of the sweetness of Julie Andrews floating among ethereal pseudo-European royal figureheads, Devil turns to a she-devil imposing her iron will on the “clackers” who create Franco-American fashion fetishes. Of course, the princess ended up accepting the challenge from the queen, but the second assistant turns away from the devil while still learning how to make her place in the devil’s world.

Both matriarchs suggest that they entered this patriarchal world naively and then finally mastered it, losing along the way their vestigial male helpmates. (The queen lost hers to death, the devil lost hers to divorce.) This gentle feminism purports to guide young girls to their crowning glory: conditioned, volumized hair; fancy clothes; no entangling breeder relationships; and the opportunity to save the world from testosterone pollution with revolutionary, feminine idealism. (Matriarchs must breed, of course, but they need not associate with their offspring or the seed donor.)

The obsession with traditionally feminine accoutrements in both movies (depicted anachronistically in Princess but realistically in Devil) was tedious for anyone too heteronormatively male in gender identity, of course, although I would also wonder about all the “clackers” who cynically exchange their flats for stillettoes when the matriarch bustles in. I’m sure there are some anatomically male individuals who were “born with” a predilection for flouncy tops and CFM heels and would greatly enjoy the famous-name product placement that makes up most of the medium shots in the middle of Devil; but non-heteronormative lifestyle choices are glossed over with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge in both movies.

At the end of both movies I was cheering for the princess/reporter because of the way she toughed out matriarchal boot camp, although I felt sorry for the dopey loser she was infatuated with. (Princess sanitizes the loser’s exit by relating it in past tense in the sequel.)

I would recommend Devil to anyone in high school or college who fantasizes about entering the glamorous world of big-city publishing. The lesson is this: If they have any actual editing ability, they should seek out real work instead of glamorous work; if they have merely a pretense to editing ability, they should apprentice to the devil herself; whereas if they have no actual editing ability, they should choose a field with higher average salaries in a smaller city with a lower cost of living.

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