TV & Movies

How Adulthood Changed What I Think of ‘The Devil Wears Prada’

written by MICHELLE LEMA
Source: 20th Century Fox
Source: 20th Century Fox

The year was 2006 and suddenly I wanted bangs and a fast-paced job where I ran around New York City with the constant anxiety that only an assistant to a powerful person can know. What spurred this was not a sudden epiphany but a first-time viewing of the now iconic movie, The Devil Wears Prada. I went into the movie thinking it would simply be a light-hearted comedy. While the comedy was delightful, I also saw a window into what it might mean to be a woman carving a path into any industry, whether that woman is just starting or is established in her career. Having not yet begun my own career journey, I was taking notes and watching the movie on repeat.

To the delight of The Devil Wears Prada fans everywhere, we’ve recently been reminded of just how iconic the film is. I have been fully immersed in awards season this year, and many of the awards shows, including the Emmys and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, have brought beloved casts back together. During the SAG Awards, Meryl Streep (Miranda in The Devil Wears Prada) came on stage to present an award and was quickly joined by Emily Blunt (Emily) and Anne Hathaway (Andy). Fittingly, Hathaway was wearing cerulean blue (the color of the sweater she wore in the film when Miranda (Streep) delivered her iconic speech about the fashion industry). This appearance came on the heels of an episode of Variety’s Actors on Actors series late last year, which featured Blunt and Hathaway talking quite a bit about their time working on The Devil Wears Prada. It seems the movie is everywhere again, and I had to watch it one more time.

Nearly twenty years later and with way more life experience under my belt, the window I’m looking through while watching the movie has completely changed. Here’s what stood out to me the most as an adult (re)watching The Devil Wears Prada:

The real-life careers of the people involved

Now that I’m a fully grown adult, I don’t just love movies because of the immersive experience but also because I get to obsessively track the careers of the people within them. Sometimes I think I live on IMDb, where one can research the careers of every person involved in a movie. Watching The Devil Wears Prada this time around, I was frequently pausing the movie to look someone up, which I never did before. I was fascinated to see that while Lauren Weisberger wrote the book by the same name, Aline Brosh McKenna wrote the screenplay for The Devil Wears Prada. McKenna also went on to write 27 Dresses, create the story for Cruella starring Emma Stone, and was the showrunner on the long-standing series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Of course, I didn’t forget to brush up on the cast. While The Devil Wears Prada was Blunt’s first big role, she’s a huge star now. I remember seeing the movie for the first time and thinking her performance was perfect, but I had no idea what she would do next. This year, she’s nominated for an Oscar for her performance in Oppenheimer, has starred in an incredible number of films and series over the years, and recently executive-produced the Amazon series The English, in which she also plays the lead. Hathaway has since won an Oscar for her performance in Les Miserables, and like Blunt has gone on to shape her career with challenging and groundbreaking roles. And of course, while Streep was already a legend to me when the movie came out, she’s since earned the honor of being the most nominated actor for Academy Awards of all time, including a nomination for her work in The Devil Wears Prada. My love for movie facts was seriously engaged in this rewatch, and I enjoyed every (pausing to look at IMDb) minute of it.

Assistants run the world

I knew nothing of the world of being an assistant when I watched this movie for the first time, but it sure prepared me for the experience as an adult. I thought that if I became an assistant to get experience in an industry, my work day might be just like Andy’s. And when I got my first assistant job, it kind of was. I now know how accurate the very real pressure of running someone’s life and being responsible for their day-to-day success is, especially in an industry where everything seems to have high stakes. Depending on your boss, being an assistant can be a thankless job, and as Andy points out in the movie, sometimes the only feedback you get is when something goes wrong. The desk coverage moments in the movie were also so real to me this time around. In my assistant days, there were countless times when I couldn’t leave my desk for fear of missing something, just like Emily. At this year’s Golden Globes, Ayo Edebiri of The Bear thanked her agents’ assistants in her acceptance speech, proving that assistants are still the backbone of many industries.

While the “stick this job out for a year and move up” plotline in the movie is not realistic, I now know that the right boss can make all the difference. If you have a boss who supports and respects you, understands your career goals, and wants to mentor you, the hard work of being an assistant can pay off in experience and knowledge.

Careers are a never-ending balancing act

While Miranda Priestly is positioned as the villain for comedy purposes in The Devil Wears Prada, watching as an adult made me feel so much compassion for her. Being a woman in a leadership position is still incredibly difficult to navigate in our society, from stereotypes to the gender pay gap to navigating male-dominated fields. As an adult, I’ve taken on jobs where I lowered my voice for fear of being perceived as “mean”—only to be called “too nice.” I’ve also taken on leadership positions where I finally tapped into my confidence, but then found myself somewhere I didn’t want to be. As a Pisces dreamer and people-pleaser, and an organized and ambitious Virgo moon, balancing these feelings is a challenge, so I appreciate any movie that tackles the subject.

The most poignant scene in the movie takes place in Miranda’s hotel room at Paris Fashion Week. Andy walks into the room and finds Miranda in a robe, free of her usually perfect styling and makeup. The scene, in my opinion, is what earned Streep the Oscar nomination and is the ultimate unmasking of a villain-like character. It showed the depth of the person within the powerful icon and how hard it is to be a partner, a mother, and have a successful career.

While Miranda is facing ageism and trying desperately to hold on to her power, Andy’s character is facing the unrealistic beauty standards of the fashion industry. The intergenerational pressures that both women are going through, while balancing every aspect of their lives, are still relatable today.

Changing goals, relationships, and friend groups is OK

As an adult, the way Andy’s friends and partner treated her stood out to me more than ever before. At the end of the day, they were not OK with Andy’s changes throughout the film. When Andy takes on her new assistant job, she jumps into the fashion industry, dressing in designer clothes from the runway closet, and getting the aforementioned bangs. She puts her job first, missing events and her partner Nate’s birthday. This may be a hot take, but aside from not setting healthy boundaries at work, I didn’t think anything Andy did was unreasonable given the circumstances. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s OK to put your career first—so long as you’re communicating clearly with your loved ones. Sometimes you will change, in small ways or big ways, because that’s part of growing older. And sometimes your friends or partner won’t understand, and that’s OK, too.

In the movie, Nate tells Andy that he liked her old clothes, and her best friend Lily says she’s not the same person she was 16 years ago. To be honest, in the name of growth, I hope I am never the same person I was 16 years ago because that hopefully means I’m evolving. While I think the moral of the movie could be interpreted as never letting a job change you, I would argue that sometimes letting a new career change you is the key to growth, whether you walk away from that job or not. That being said, I also think that learning to take constructive criticism is crucial. Sometimes the people who know you best can be the voice of reason you need. The tricky part is determining whether those people are right or simply holding on to a version of you that they’re comfortable with.

In conclusion, wait, I do want to be like them.

Walking away is the ultimate power move. Miranda says to Andy in the final scene, “Everyone wants this; everyone wants to be us.” When I first watched The Devil Wears Prada, I was so stressed out for Andy when she heard this, got out of the car, and threw her phone into a Paris fountain. She walked away from Miranda, thereby declaring she did not want to be like her. Now I see that moment as a leap of faith, and a promise to learn from her experience and move on. Having walked away from a few career opportunities at this point, I know how frightening that can be, not to mention that sometimes it’s just not practical to walk away when you want to, because of finances or life. But when you are able to work toward making a change, perhaps not as dramatically as throwing your phone into water, it can be empowering.

I’m truly surprised at how rewatching this movie helped me reset my own career goals and philosophies. If I’m being honest, this time around, I do want to be like the characters in The Devils Wears Prada. I want to be successful in my career, I want to take risks, and I want to set boundaries in all areas of my life. While watching it on repeat in 2006 helped me fantasize about what my work life would be like, watching it now is like taking a look back at my younger self, and realizing how far I’ve come.