the Little Red Reviewer

When “Coming of Age” stories aren’t

Posted on: August 4, 2015

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.

 

up-in-the-air-girl

Anna Kendrick in Up In The Air

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.

Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada

Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada

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.

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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?

4 Responses to "When “Coming of Age” stories aren’t"

Isn’t the intended message of both films the classic downtrodden fantasy: “other people may seem more succesful than you, but really you’re better than them because they’re all miserable, and they all secretly wish they were you?” I suspect they’re not marketed toward the Clooney/Streep characters, but maybe they are…

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I’ve never actually seen Up in the Air, but I love Devil Wears Prada, and this is a really interesting thing for you to say, because I’ve never thought about the way I watch the movie before. At the beginning, I feel like I’m Andrea, the fresh new mind willing to learn and wanting so badly to make it, but by the end, I’m definitely more sympathetic towards Miranda. Maybe that’s the point – to show both sides of a career path. Some people love it and some people don’t want it, but there are pros and cons to everything!

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Opposite of Michelle, I’ve seen Up in the Air, but not Devil Wears Prada. I’ve always liked it, mainly for the last scenes—the letter and the quirky smile, and the mystery of whether Clooney’s character goes back to his job, or just jumps on a plane and never looks back. It’s never touched me on a personal level though, because my career ambitions are more along the lines of Anna Kendrick’s character … though really, I’m like neither of them at this point.

Your reaction, though, is why I love stories. We can both watch the same movie in different ways, and experience different things. But mostly, I love that it struck you enough to elicit some self-examination, that it spoke to something on that deep of a level. That’s the power of good storytelling, even if is predictable.

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I’m not even sure it’s a “Coming of Age” story, which I tend to think as high schooler transitioning to college. I mostly think of Devil, the only of the two I’ve seen, as a warning tale of not listening to those around you. Only listen to what you need.

Let’s face it, Andy’s boyfriend and friends were immature jerks. And Miranda was too invested in her life to the point of being an icicle, even if a very good mentor on how not to be. Andy didn’t really have a mind fresh out of college. She has to go through all the bumps and bruises to find it. I guess that’s a kind of coming of age; but not really what I consider criteria to be since most graduates I know are usually older than previous generations.

I’m more of an Emily. I want my hard work to pay off, to recognition. Not because I’m a great writer, either. I want it based on the fact I wasn’t just handed the opportunity. Hard work and dedication have to pay off in some way.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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