From How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days to Hitch, The Holiday, and Bridget Jones’s Diary, the Noughties was a golden era for glossy romantic comedies. The Devil Wears Prada may not be a romantic comedy by definition (the most significant relationship in the film is between an employee and her boss, not a pair of lovers), but it otherwise displays many of the hallmarks of the genre. There are frothy jokes, personal crises, sassy and wise supporting characters, unrealistically stylish apartments and fabulous outfits – and by the time the credits roll, the main character has Grown Significantly as a Person. It’s soapy, it’s heartwarming, and it’s still one of our favourite films.
But in recent years, one of the characters in The Devil Wears Prada has been re-assessed and found wanting. That character is Nate, played by Adrian Grenier. Remember Nate, Andy (Anne Hathaway’s) boyfriend for most of the film? Curly dark hair, green eyes, scornful and sulky about the fact that Andy is trying to build a career in a fiercely competitive industry?
Yeah, people really don’t like Nate much these days.
In a recent interview, Aline Brosh McKenna – The Devil Wears Prada’s screenwriter – weighs in on all the Nate hate. Interestingly, she says that the character was originally conceived as a twist on an old female movie stereotype.
“That was a ‘girlfriend’ part, really,” she tells Entertainment Weekly. “That’s a part that a lot of women end up playing, the ‘why aren’t you home more,’ the naggy wife.”
She’s right, of course. The cliché of the irritating or dull wife-or-girlfriend who gets in the way of a man’s fun or career is one we see again and again in TV and film, from Leslie Mann’s Debbie in Knocked Up to Betty Draper in Mad Men. It’s relatively rare that the tables are turned.
McKenna explains that Nate was actually the hardest Devil Wears Prada character to write, and the one she discussed the most with director David Frankel.
“We wanted to make sure he wasn’t a pain in the ass, but he is the person who is trying to say, ‘Is this who you want to be morally?’” she says.
In the film, Nate is Andy’s boyfriend from college, and is trying to build a career as a chef while she works as Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep’s) junior assistant at fashion magazine Runway. Nate repeatedly expresses doubt about Andy’s new career, complaining when she has to work late and insisting that her job at the magazine doesn’t reflect who she really is.
In one of The Devil Wears Prada’s most pivotal scenes, Andy misses Nate’s birthday dinner because she has to attend an important work event. He sulks, and it becomes clear that their relationship has an expiration date.
“I think that now, however many years later, what people focus on is that he’s trying to restrict her ambition,” says McKenna. “But her ambition is going towards something that she doesn’t really believe in, so he has a point.
“The part that makes me giggly when I read is him being upset about his birthday. It’s pretty whiney – but he does say later that it wasn’t what he was upset about.”
McKenna also observes that while Nate might be annoying, Andy’s friends aren’t much better. Remember the friends? The main offender was Lily, who is extremely excited about Andy’s job at Runway when it means she gets a free Marc Jacobs handbag, but also is quick to criticise her for spending too much time in the office and not prioritising Nate. (Really, Lily?)
There are also a host of nameless male buddies who do things like play catch with Andy’s phone when Miranda is calling her, and snigger at Nate’s jokes about her lack of fashion sense (!).
“The friends are not very supportive of her!” says McKenna. “But I will say, I think a lot of young people, if you have the experience of being in a job that your friends kind of envy, sometimes they’re not great about it. And so, they take the Marc Jacobs purse, but they give her a lot of shit.”
The Devil Wears Prada isn’t the only nostalgic piece of pop culture to be raked over by the internet’s collective critical eye. Earlier this year, one writer’s assassination of Ross and Rachel’s relationship in Friends went viral, prompting Jennifer Aniston herself to defend the iconic TV romance.
But while Aniston is convinced that Ross and Rachel’s relationship would have gone the distance, we’re not so sure about Andy and Nate. The pair do reunite at the end of The Devil Wears Prada, with an agreement to ‘see how things go’ – but he’s moving to another city, she’s got a new job, and as we’ve discussed, he’s really irritating.
Here’s hoping that their relationship fizzled out soon after, and that whatever Andy’s doing now in her parallel movie universe, she’s doing it without a whiney partner in her life.
Images: Rex Features