I found something a little off, too, in the film’s simplistic overarching message: that in order to be fulfilled, Andy has to go back to turtlenecks and newspaper reporting; back to “serious” journalism. I’ve worked in glossy magazines, schlepping around fashion-shoot props for über-groomed editors, and my colleagues were professionals who took their jobs seriously and produced really great work. They were lovely, generous people to boot.
Priestly, too, is something of an icy gargoyle as portrayed by Streep. It’s scenery-chewing fun, and Streep lets some humanity creep in even as she throws jackets and barbs across the screen, but if I were Wintour, I wouldn’t like to be looking into this mirror. (Apparently, the portrayal is softer than it was in her former assistant Weisberger’s book, which I have not read, and Wintour has told Barbara Walters she enjoyed the film.) The real Wintour, who you can see in documentary The September Issue, a fly-on-the-wall look at the making of Vogue’s September 2007 issue, doesn’t come across as warm and fuzzy, exactly, but there’s an endearing sense of humor there. And she’s in on the joke. Just take a look at this.
Screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna and director Frankel do get some things right—the work-life balance for a conscientious Conde Nast-er isn’t always particularly well balanced, for example, and magazine staffers are ruthlessly competitive. (I had to scratch and crawl to be the first Summer Movie Club writer. Okay, not really). And one of the more memorable scenes in the film is also one where the filmmakers actually hit on something very true about fashion magazines: their enormous reach and economic significance. When Andy disdainfully snorts as Priestly ponders a choice between two near-identical belts for a shoot, Priestly puts her in her place with a through-the-production-line explanation of how decisions like this have led to Andy’s own fashion choices. The cerulean sweater Andy wears was a direct result of a 2002 Oscar de la Renta collection from 2002, explains Priestly. The color trend, she says, “filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin .that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.” Fashion is serious, the film pauses to say amid celebrating the industry’s products and lampooning the people promoting them.
The success of Prada has created a new cinematic subgenre that’s been distorting the image of young journalists and news outlets in the years since. The stories are familiar: a plucky young journalist lands a tough job, struggles through it with nary a hair out of place, learns something about herself along the way, and—just when things seem to be going well—is faced with a tough decision. In the terrible Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009), it’s a choice between a job at the Vogue-like Alette and a gig writing serious stuff for her man’s new startup. In the fun Morning Glory (2010), a film by Prada screenwriter McKenna that begins by positing that TV producers look like Rachel McAdams at three in the morning, the choice is between a gig at The Today Show and staying with the smaller morning show she has helped build up. As with Prada, there’s usually a hunk or two involved, and a lot of improbably high-heeled running.
It’s all got me thinking. A certain enterprising young writer might make a bit of money off a Prada-like exposé of this here very po-faced institution. Throw in a spectacular tweed jacket or two, and Hollywood might bite. I’ve already thought of my veiled magazine name: The New York Reporting Review. Now I just have to convince Dustin Hoffman he’s the man to play Mike Hoyt.
Next week: Superman