When “Coming of Age” stories aren’t
Posted August 4, 2015on:
Up In The Air and The Devil Wears Prada are basically the same movie, and they aren’t what you think they’re about.
I adore Anna Kendrick, and I’ve seen Up in the Air about 10 times. I laugh at all the travel scenes, because I’ve been there done that (and the St Louis airport has some surprisingly nice restaurants). Up In the Air is a good, but not great movie. And with The Devil Wears Prada who can say no to an all-star cast of Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci, and Emily Blunt? So these are obviously two really fun movies for me. These two movies are supposed to coming of age stories about young women who chase a dream career and blah blah blah . . .
Coming of age story? Yeah, well, they aren’t about that at all. Imma gonna spoil the plots for you, okay? Both movies have nearly identical plots, that among other things, are pretty predictable. So I don’t feel like I’m actually spoiling anything important here.
In Up in the Air, recent college grad Natalie Keener (played by Anna Kendrick) accepts what she thinks is a dream job. She’s going to bring high tech solutions to an old fashioned HR services company. Taken under the wing of seasoned consultant Ryan Bingham (played by George Clooney), Natalie realizes this wasn’t at all what she expected. Bingham is thrilled by the constant travel required by the job, and loves to share airport secrets and talk about his hotel and airline points, but Natalie is exhausted by the entire situation. Her relationship suffers, her boyfriend dumps her via text message. We see that Bingham has no close relationships, his apartment doesn’t look lived in, his family no longer depends on him because he’s never around. He brags about his life, but is depressingly alone. Before a year is up, Natalie leaves the company and unbeknownst to her is given a glowing letter of recommendation from Bingham.
In The Devil Wears Prada, recent college grad Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway) lands her dream job, working for the terrifying Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) at Runway Magazine (think Vogue). Andrea is good at what she does, but doesn’t yet fit the profile of a fashion maven. She learns quick, gets a new wardrobe, and soon become indispensable to Miranda. But Miranda’s marriage is in shambles, her daughters never see her, and over the years her ambitions have made her a lot of enemies. Andrea gets sucked into the lifestyle, but realizes this isn’t what she expected, or what she wants. But who can say no to the beautiful clothes and the great opportunities? Her relationship suffers, and her boyfriend suggests they take a break. Andrea realizes how lonely Miranda is, even though she constantly brags about the lifestyle she lives. Andrea leaves the company, and unbeknownst to her is given a glowing letter of recommendation from Priestly.
The closing scenes of these movies are nearly identical. Natalie/Andrea have job interviews at other companies, and are asked why they were at their previous jobs for less than a year. They both say they learned a lot but ultimately it just didn’t work out. The interviewer pulls out a letter of recommendation from Bingham/Priestly, and among other things, the letter says this new prospective employer would be an idiot if they didn’t hire Natalie/Andrea. Meanwhile, Bingham/Priestly thinks about their previous employee and gets a quirky smile on their faces.
It’s a smile that says “She escaped this life. She made the choice I didn’t. Good for her for not getting sucked into this life”
That last scene, the one with the quirky smile? Seeing someone who is primed to make the same life choices you made, and chooses another path? That’s what these movies are about. Every time I see either movie, I start out with “Yay! I love Anna Kendrick” or “Yay! Anne Hathaway and tons of beautiful clothes!”. and by the time I get to the end, all I can think is “wow, that whole story was unbelievably depressing”. Over the course of 90 minutes, I go from seeing the story through the young person’s eyes, to seeing it through the older person’s eyes.
Having seen both movies fairly recently, this is something that’s been on my mind. With how many hours I’ve been working lately, and how much my family and my social life has suffered for my career ambitions, I’m beginning to wonder. Am I taking the Bingham/Priestly path? Or the Natalie/Andrea path? Is there a middle ground?