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Two Movies with but a Single Thought

Last week, Your Humble Blogger saw two movies. These two movies came out in the last couple of years, and they have a lot in common. The central character in each movie is played by a former child/teen actress; the characters are in their early twenties, and are both former college hotshots who have taken jobs that were not what people expected them to take. Their bosses are played by film-acting legends, both as outrageous larger-than-life comic forces. In each case, the boss offers the young woman an unusual career path; in each, the young woman is reluctant to take it. The major question in each film is what career path with she choose?

One of the movies I liked, and the other I loathed. I loved one of the film-legend performances and loathed the other. The movies, of course, are The Devil Wears Prada and Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.

I hated Devil and I loved Magorium; I loved Meryl Streep’s performance and hated Dustin Hoffman’s.

When I say I watched them, I missed the middle third or so of Devil, because I couldn’t take it. Watching the sadistic abuse of the poor young woman and her associates was a horrible experience which I could not willingly prolong. Fortunately, I was in my own home, and my Best Reader was willing to sit through the middle bit. I eventually rejoined her and finished it out. I missed a few minutes of Magorium, too, but not very much. The sadism in that, though, was limited to a kid running around with a lemur on his head, and that was brief and I think out of focus.

In the days since, I’ve come to think of the theme as being an interesting one. Women my age (YHB is thirty-glob at the present time) must have that as a common experience they weren’t entirely prepared for. Women my parent’s age were unlikely to be hotshots headed for a rewarding career. Those few that were, well, I would guess that most of them either actually followed that career or left work altogether. Women born into the 1970s, though, were more likely to be prodigies headed for a brilliant career of one kind or another. Most of their lives didn’t turn out like anybody expected. Most people’s lives don’t, after all.

There are a lot of movies (and books and so on) in the 30s and 40s and 50s about men who find themselves in soul-less jobs, having nearly abandoned their dreams. Other movies are about the dangers of ambition. The issue is attacked in a variety of ways, comically, poignantly, violently. But the question comes up, again and again: my life is not what I thought it was going to be, so now what? By the time my father was at that point in his life, he probably had internalized enough of the stories to be able to include it in his perception of the universe. It’s still hard, but we have stories, so we can deal with it.

Many of those stories are still available to women, of course, but it makes perfect sense that the absence of those stories about women’s lives is a void that is currently being filled. Not only are there aspects that are wildly different (there’s the baby thing, of course, but also a vast difference in the romantic expectations both from the woman and her partner, as well as other differences related to societal expectations), but there’s the simple fact that it’s easier to apply stories to yourself if the character is ‘like you’ in ways that are important to you. So the earlier stories about men’s career choices, or the ones still being filmed, don’t fill that void.

It seems to me that have been, over the last decade or so, an increasing number of movies that involve a female protagonist’s career path, but that most of those still had as their fundamental plot question which guy will she choose? The lead in The Devil does make romantic and sexual choices, and those choices (like her fashion choices) help the audience understand her predicament, but they are contributory. In Magorium, there is a sort of romantic choice, not between two men but whether to take one or stay single, but again that shows us aspects of her fundamental choice (of career), rather than being the focus of the movie.

But then, Magorium is a kid’s movie, and as such isn’t likely to have a lot of sex in it. And for all I really know, there have been lots of movies over the last two decades to deal with this issue, and I don’t know anything about them because I don’t see very many movies, and when I do pick movies, I’m much more likely to pick a romance (or romantic comedy) than to pick a movie about a young woman facing a career choice. I’m arguing that from two movies that the theme is popular, and I’m arguing that it’s newly popular without evidence of any kind. But I’m right anyway, aren’t I? Or am I? What movies (or best-selling books) help me and which hurt me?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,