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Ever wondered why so many of your favorite rom-coms of the early aughts (and even a few today) feature lead characters that work at women's magazines? Us too!
At InStyle, we've been watching and re-watching plenty of the classics in quarantine, reflecting on the good, the bad, and the horrifically inaccurate, town car-riddled world of the fictionalized women's publishing industry. (Note: None of us at InStyle are named Andy/Andie.)
Here, five InStyle editors review films where the protagonist works at a women's magazine, based on their own perspective as employees of a women's magazine.
13 Going on 30
Rank: #5 — Isabel Jones, associate news writer
The Gist: A 13-year-old wishes to be "30, flirty, and thriving" on her birthday — and her wish is granted. This movie knows nothing about working in media, but that's OK.
The Lead: Jenna Rink (Jennifer Garner), a 13-year-old trapped in the body of a 30-year-old executive editor.
The Love Interest: Matt “Mattie” Flamhaff (Mark Ruffalo), the cool, nice, formerly friend-zoned sad boi photographer.
The Magazine: Poise
The Review: In my head, 13 Going on 30 is simple and sweet — a brightly-colored remedy for a bad mood. Though I’ve seen the movie enough times to hear the lines in my head a beat before they’re said on screen, I always forget how low-key dark the storyline is. Like, fast-forward 17 years and Jenna is a super-villain who has affairs with her colleagues’ husbands and tanks her own magazine so she can get a better job at a competitor? I understand the point being made, but I refuse to believe things can be so black and white — even in a rom-com known for its “Thriller” dance scene. Not everyone who works in the media is evil!
Lesson-pandering plot twist aside, 13 Going on 30 is fun and makes me wish I took town cars everywhere and had the confidence to wear neon green.
Is it realistic? 3/10 — Jenna’s redesign pitch is just like a few photos with no explanation of how the content would shift. Also, where was the budget for these pitches coming from? Make it make sense! And please, show me a 30-year-old executive editor who lives alone on 5th Avenue in a sprawling apartment with a walk-in closet (and pays their own* rent).
Are her colleagues at all realistic? 1/10 — Hmm … between the stereotypical snobby mean girl and the gay boss who says things like “my balls are in an iron vice,” I’d say no.
Does it at least make us look good/cool?? 5/10 — I, too, aspire to be friends with Madonna and live comfortably on 5th Avenue, so in a way yes. That said, the vicious backstabbing is certainly not a good look.
Is the character at least likeable?? 9/10 — Teenage Jenna is delightful, subtracting 1 point for the malice of adult train wreck Jenna.
Are the outfits good? 10/10 — So good! Early aughts meets ‘80s shouldn’t work as well as it does. Even Jenna’s accidental work outfit — nightgown and polkadot coat — is aspirational.
Would we date the love interest? 7/10 — I’ve never quite understood the Mark Ruffalo allure, but Mattie is certainly charming (in that one-dimensional rom-com love interest kind of way). If he promises to bring me Razzles I’ll spring for 10/10.
How bad is the fake mag title? 8/10 — Can I see a women’s magazine using this title? Yes. Is it also the name of a women's incontinence pad brand? Yes.
The Score: 6.1
The Devil Wears Prada
Rank: #3 (tie) — Kylie Gilbert, senior lifestyle editor
The Gist: An aspiring "serious" young journalist lands a job working for the cut-throat editor-in-chief of a top fashion magazine and gets thrown into a world she knows nothing about.
The Lead: Andrea “Andy” Sachs (Anne Hathaway), recent Northwestern University grad and “second” assistant to editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep).
The Love interest: Nate Cooper (Adrian Grenier), chef at Bubby’s Tribeca, and actually kind of a jerk?
The Magazine: Runway
The Review: This movie admittedly hasn’t aged well in the body-pos, “Me Too” era. In addition to the obsession with thinness (Emily Bunt's character actually says, “I’m one stomach flu away from my goal weight”), Andy is straight-up called “the smart, fat girl” to her face by her boss. Even her work bestie Nigel (Stanley Tucci), tells her that, at a size 6, she’ll need “a little Crisco and some fishing line” to fit into anything in the fashion closet. Then there’s the fact that 22-year-old Andy is pursued by the significantly older writer Christian Thompson (Simon Baker) who tells her the morning after spending the night together in Paris that he’s going to be her boss (not creepy at all) — all part of a sneaky move to push out Miranda that screams of age discrimination. All that aside, this movie holds a special place in my heart, and not just for all the shout-outs to my alma mater — Go ‘Cats! For those of us who loved The Princess Diaries as a kid, it brought us yet another iconic Anne Hathaway makeover (those bangs!) and served scene after scene of incredible early-aughts fashion inspo and deadpan one-liners from Meryl Streep (“Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking”). It also captures the struggle of being fresh out of college with an expensive journalism degree and trying to make your dreams come true in a competitive industry that's often misunderstood. Bottom line: I will never not get excited when I hear the iconic opening credits song, "Suddenly I See" by KT Tunstall, when I'm flipping through channels.
Is it realistic? 8/10 — TDWP is based on the novel by Lauren Weisberger, who was once an assistant to a Vogue editor-in-chief, and many fashion editors have said it’s ‘scarily accurate’ — but that a lot has changed in the industry since 2006. Personally, one of my biggest gripes is that Andy would have never been able to afford her glow-up outfits on an entry-level salary (or borrow an entire wardrobe from the fashion closet)! Still, the dinner with her dad where he hands her rent money and asks if she’s sure she doesn’t want to pursue another career was pretty spot-on.
Are her colleagues at all realistic? 8/10 — Sure, she’s a bit of a caricature, but I have 100% interacted with people just like looks-obsessed mean-girl Emily Charlton (Emily Blunt) who take some time to crack open.
Does it at least make us look good/cool?? 7/10 — This movie certainly shows the petty, cutthroat, and unglamorous side of the industry (especially as a personal assistant), but the outfits and Paris Fashion Week might just make up for it??
Is the character at least likable?? 6/10 — Andy is lovable, but also kind of smug and insufferable at times. Watching it back, it’s pretty wild that she shows up to her interview with zero prep, not knowing the name of the editor-in-chief of the magazine, or having opened the magazine once (she even admits this to Miranda's face!!) — and still somehow feels entitled to the job. It's called Google, Andy! (Also, throwing away an expensive Smith and Wollensky steak is pretty unforgivable.)
Are the outfits good? 10/10 — The CHANEL JACKET AND BOOTS. The film’s stylist, Patricia Field (who worked on Sex and the City) said the film used at least $1 million worth of clothing and it shows.
Would we date the love interest? 6/10 — Yes, we would date the moody chef for far too long before finally realizing that dark hair and striking blue eyes are not enough to make up for being self-involved, judgmental, and unsupportive. He literally says, “Wait, you got a job at a fashion magazine? What was it, a phone interview?” Excuse me, no.
How bad is the fake mag title? 5/10 — Neutral. Runway isn’t too bad?
The score: 7
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
Rank: #3 (tie) — Samantha Sutton, fashion editor
The Gist: A young "how to girl" writes the ultimate "how to" column: "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days."
The Lead: Andie Anderson, a writer who is 23 years old and has her own column at a women's magazine, but still complains because she doesn't get to write about "real" issues. (It's unclear if she's aware that she works at a women's magazine.)
The Love Interest: Ben Barry (Matthew McConaughey), an ad exec with an equally preposterous alliterative name.
The Magazine: Composure
The Review: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is as corny as its title makes it sound, but its strong (and hot) leads make up for what's lacking in plot substance. Their chemistry is through the roof, even if Andie is not exactly the most likeable, or good at her job, for that matter ...
Is it realistic? 4/10 — These days, every editor has Andie Anderson’s gig of being a “How To Girl,” especially if their focus is fashion or beauty. Personal essays, photo diaries, it all comes with the territory. However, we don’t spend 10 days focusing on just one thing (especially with digital); we’re working on other projects, editing, answering emails, attending brainstorms — um, we’re working. I’d likely be in trouble if I left my desk for long periods of time, barging in on my fake-boyfriend at his office and attending fake therapy sessions.
Plus, I’ve already gotten pretty rant-y about the fact that Andie is mysteriously 23, yet somehow has a senior position and feels entitled to have free rein, demanding her boss let her write anything she wants. And, as someone who is from Staten Island, the borough was definitely glamorized and feels too wholesome.
Are her colleagues at all realistic? 8/10 – I do love how supportive her coworkers are and how they’re also her besties. Some of my closest friendships were made through work, and I’ve totally ugly-cried about life and love in front of them, just like Michelle (Kathryn Hahn). But, would they pretend to be my couple’s therapist for the sake of a story? OK, yes, actually I can see that … but they also have their own to-do lists to worry about. There’s also the fact that Andie’s boss was meant to come across as “mean,” but in reality, she was being as flexible as she could be while keeping the magazine’s readership in mind.
Does it at least make us look good/cool?? 9/10 — I’d love for someone to pay me to fall in love with Matthew McConaughey. (And here I thought the occasional celebrity interview was fun.) We didn’t even see her stressed out about deadlines or trying to juggle eight different tasks while writing her story.
Is the character at least likable?? 4/10 — Not … really? Her job seems super easy and flexible, yet she has a ton of complaints and expects to be rewarded. Journalism 101 is knowing the audience you’re writing for, so before she demands her boss to publish a serious feature on war and politics, she might try giving it a “How to Girl” twist first (ex: maybe she could “How To Girl” running for office). It can be a gradual thing, and also requires some creativity on her part — which she’s wasting on all the games she’s playing with Ben. She knows how to have fun, though, and seems like a decent friend.
Are the outfits good? 9/10 — People are still trying to recreate that famous yellow gown, and I’m personally a fan of Andie’s underrated striped shorts. However, I’m taking a point off for that white button-down and beige skirt combo, which definitely feels more finance than women’s magazine.
Would we date the love interest? 8/10 — He’s a player, but McConaughey is definitely easy on the eyes, and who doesn’t love a bad guy who turns out to be the good guy? Plus, he literally risked his life chasing down her car in traffic (although, that could have been a bad move if she didn’t feel the same).
How bad is the fake mag title? 2/10 — Composure Magazine. I can definitely picture it being the name of real magazine, but it just feels kind of icky in 2020. Like, what are they trying to say? Women need to keep their composure? You can’t show emotion? I’m confused.
The score: 7
The Bold Type
Rank: #2 — Peyton Dix, special projects editor
The Gist: This show is a glorified version of women's media with a big budget and bigger dreams.
The Lead(s): Kat Edison (Aisha Dee), social media editor; Jane Sloan (Katie Stevens), writer; and Sutton Brady (Meghann Fahy), fashion editor — but today we're focusing on Kat.
The Love Interest(s): Adena El-Amin (Nikhol Boosheri), a photographer.
The Magazine: Scarlet
The Review: Kat Edison from The Bold Type is an important reminder that Black, queer people are the best at social media. It’s just a fact, I don’t make the rules! Sure some of her tweets could stay in the drafts, but no one could work a boardroom, a blazer, or a lesbian bar (alongside her current girlfriend and all of her exes!) like her. I never know how she has the bandwidth to be OOO so much, but she uses her time wisely. Whether she is posting pictures of nipples to dismantle the patriarchy, dating different women, or pegging a guy, she keeps it interesting! The Bold Type — and Kat, specifically — is corny and contemporary and chaotic which is exactly the reason why you should watch it right now. It’s a good look into women’s media ... but with a budget.
Is it realistic? 7/10 — About that budget ...
Are her colleagues at all realistic? 8/10 — They're white and horny so pretty realistic. Joan is whiney and Sutton is supreme.
Does it at least make us look good/cool?? 7/10 — I wish I had as much time to be OOO as Kat. She also makes a strong case for bisexuals, who normally get a bad rep.
Is the character at least likeable?? 8/10 — She's my favorite, but the writer's room knows where they went wrong with her...
Are the outfits good? 3/10 — It's tough. You're in New York, girl, keep up.
Would we date the love interest? 10/10 — Personally, as a queer head of social with a hot creative/photographer girlfriend, I have to say yes.
How bad is the fake mag title? 10/10 — Scarlet. SCARLET. Let's just sit with what we've heard ...
The score: 7.6
Rank: #1 — Justine Del Guadio, senior video producer
The Gist: This TV show has heart and humor and, at times, murder.
The Lead: Betty Suarez (America Ferrera).
The Love Interest(s): Henry, Gio, and Matt.
The Magazine: Mode
The Review: Ugly Betty does an amazing job showing her struggles as a woman of color, struggling paycheck to paycheck, while navigating complex publishing office politics and occasional romantic issues.
Is it realistic? 7/10 — The show is inspired by a telenovela and as a result, there are some highly unrealistic subplots. Giving a 7 for great cameos from Posh Spice herself and Lindsay Lohan!
Are her colleagues at all realistic? 8/10 — This show leans right into a lot of the stereotypes you’d expect to see in a magazine setting — some of which are over the top, yet delicious, such as Vanessa Williams as the villainous, on-again, off-again editor-in-chief. But, because it isn’t a movie, it gives the characters time and space to redeem themselves … and most of them do.
Does it at least make us look good/cool?? 8/10 — Ugly Betty for sure represents an era of magazine publishing that is long gone, but had some glitz and glam that is a lot of fun to dream about! Like a town car ride home!
Is the character at least likable?? 9/10 — Betty is one of my favorite TV show characters. She grows, evolves, and comes into her own over the show's four seasons and we love to see it! That said, she does need to work on being a bit judgmental of her loved ones at times.
Are the outfits good? 10/10 —I have two words for you: Patricia Field. There is so much fashion in Ugly Betty. By nature of the title of the show, Betty’s outfit choices are a source of criticism, but I think her vibrant personality always shines through. I think the show does an incredible job of what Patricia Field is known for best: finding incredible outfits that very specifically and uniquely represent all the characters.
Would we date the love interest? 10/10 — There were many love interests throughout the show. In this house, we ship Betty and Gio. They had amazing chemistry but they could never seem to make it work — but that’s ok, more for me.
How bad is the fake mag title? 10/10 — Mode!!! Y’all. It pretty much rhymes with the other one. I can’t.
The score: 8.8