Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Novel Film Blogfest - Day 2

This is part 2 for the Novel Films Blogfest hosted by Madeleine at Scribble and Edit . You can check out part 1 here.

For today's post, I am going to talk to you about a rare occurrence: sometimes, the movie is better then the book.

This doesn't happen often. Movies by their very nature are forced to condense and simplify in order to fit into a 2-hour time period and appeal to mass audiences. Books can delve into characters. They can take their sweet time revealing the story. It's a more personal medium than movies - you and your imagination vs. you and a theater full of strangers. Of all the books I've read that've been adapted into movies, I have always enjoyed the book more. Except once.

The Devil Wears Prada movie far exceeded the book. It hewed closely to the book's plot - smart, non girly-girl Andie Sachs (Anne Hathaway) gets a job working as assistant to Miranda Priestley (Meryl Streep), the demanding, crazy editor of fashion magazine Runway, and she must perform outrageous tasks to keep her boss happy. Both book and movie were huge hits; the movie single-handedly kept female-driven films afloat for a time.

So what made the movie better than the book?

The book was a roman a clef by Lauren Weisberger, the former assistant to Anna Wintour, legendary editor of Vogue. It was pretty much 400 pages of the author saying "I'm so smart. These people in fashion are so stupid. Look how stupid they're being. Read about the ludicrous things they do and say. My boss is a crazy bitch. Why am I here?" The movie managed to convey the outlandishness of Runway magazine and Miranda Priestley, while also making us understand the world of fashion. In both book and movie, Andie, a wannabe serious journalist, is totally out of place at a fashion magazine. She guides the reader/audience through the ridiculous world of couture. In the book, she constantly demeans this world; her views never change. In the movie, she learns what the big deal is all about. She has a discussion with Nigel, Miranda's right-hand man, about how people at Runway think they're curing cancer or something. He tells her that some of the "greatest artists of the last century have walked these halls," that fashion is the best kind of art because "you live your life in it." I thought that was such a profound statement. (And for the record, I have very little fashion sense and most of my wardrobe cost under $10.) Up until that point, I had the same views on fashion as Andie. But then I got it. I understood why people were so enraptured with this world, why they would spend so much money on a shirt, why they dress for work like they're walking a runway. They get to be curators everyday. A scene or two before that, Andie gets eviscerated in a fashion meeting by Miranda for snickering over a life-or-death decision about which blue belt to use. In a brilliant minute-long monologue, Miranda tells her how the decisions made on the runway and at Runway affect every single person, down to bargain shoppers like herself.
The epic scene:
(p.s. for you Lost fans, that's Charlotte Staples-Lewis in the beginning!)

In less than 5 minutes, the movie managed to give credence and respect to the fashion world - something the book refused to do.

Secondly, the movie humanized Miranda. We saw that she neglected her family in order to get ahead, and she wound up paying the price. Again, Meryl Streep has another great scene when Miranda learns she is getting a divorce. The scene is very true to her character -- not sappy, just blunt and calm. Miranda came off as demanding and mean just like in the book, but in the movie, she also was shown to be a very knowledgeable editor. We understand why she's at the top. In that cerulean sweater scene, as in another scene when she's at a meeting discussing the new issue, she comes off as smart and savvy. We may not like Miranda, but we sure respect her. The author of the book, probably with an ax to grind, portrayed her as one-dimensional, leaving out the respect part.

Finally, and most importantly, the movie centered around the struggle between your personal and professional life - a real issue with which many people can empathize. The book just wanted to make fun of the fashion world. There is a place for that type of expose. I won't sit here and tell you that the book was unreadable. It was a fun, light read. But the movie dug deeper. It took great pains to find out what makes these people tick. It dared to make us understand the lunacy of high fashion and empathize with a character as seemingly evil as Miranda Priestley. That's why in this special case, the movie was infinitely better than the book.

How about you, readers? Are there any movies out there that you thought were better than the book? And if you haven't seen The Devil Wears Prada, rent it!


  1. I have to admit, I have not seen The Devil Wears Prada. Sounds like I need to put this one on my Netflix queue.

    If there is one movie that was better than the book, it was the first Twilight movie. Sadly, I was tempted to cause physical harm to the book while I read it. But I finally saw the movie and I really enjoyed it so much better...though I was still unimpressed with the idea of glitter-plastered vampires. I'm hoping to build up my resolve to finish the series.

  2. I'll make a point out of watching the movie too. I listened to the book on audio, and I think I agree with your assessment of it.

    My usual example of a movie that's better than the book is 'The Princess Bride.' I covered my feelings on that one in my own blogfest entry, day 2 I think.

    If you get a chance, check out a fellow writer's zombie story and help me make him wear an embarrassing shirt next year! It's the ultimate grudge match between social media and the zombies. Details are here:

  3. I watched The Devil Wears Prada with a male friend of mine, yes he is a sweetheart who will watch chick-flicks with me (but only when I promise to watch a horror movie in return). He didn't mind the film so much, until the end **SPOILER ALERT*** when she gives up everything to follow her man's dreams, when he wouldn't give up anything to follow hers.
    He said the movie set women back 50 years, and still to this day gets angry when I bring it up. Me? I liked the movie, it was light and fun, and I just didn't bother reading too much into it.

  4. I object. The ending was far more open-ended than that. It never said that she was going to Boston. I think that scene just left the door open for Nate and Andie to reconcile.

  5. One of those very rare occasions when the movie was better than the book. Good insight, Phil!

  6. Hi Phil, how are you? I just wanted to let you know that I have chosen you for a blog award. Check my blog for details. Enjoy your day!

  7. To me the movie Forest Gump was much better than the book, and like you, I don’t often say that. I’m glad I discovered your blog through Julia Hones’ and am delighted to be a new follower.

  8. Michelle - I couldn't even get through Forrest Gump the book. Jenny had black hair! I couldn't even imagine anyone other than Robin Wright. Thanks for the follow and I'm sorry for the lack of posts. Work has been killer this week! But I'll be posting new content very soon!

  9. Wonderful! Nice post!
    ThNks for sharing, Phil! You make my day!