"...their film is relentlessly unmoving, largely, I think, because life for Harry Stoner is less a series of lost confrontations with conscience which might be moving than an inventory of the small affronts that are the consequences of his failures."
From the New York Times Review by Vincent Canby of "Save the Tiger", February 1973.
That's a pretty astute observation. There are a lot of movies guilty of the same flaw: they become an inventory of small affronts, as a substitute for real spiritual or moral crises, because it is far easier to show the affronts. In "The Devil Wears Prada", Meryl Streep's Miranda Priestly has to take a long, lingering, slightly envious look at Andy Sachs as she walks away from her job and the high life and the travel and the money... for true love, of course. Then Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) tosses her Blackberry into the fountain, an implausibly stupid act that is utterly at odds with the character and the story, because otherwise the audience won't "get" that she is disgusted with the endless emotional compromises necessary to be Miranda's assistant. It's the affront, the stick-it-in-your-eye act that defines the audience, not the character. And Andy returns to her vacant but unshaven boyfriend to tell you that she can't even have a soul on her own: she (and the audience) gets her validation from the man.
And it leads me to a second point. Once again, we have a big Hollywood film in which a strong female character with intelligence and ambition is shown to be heartless, soulless, and unloved. Andy forswears Paris and runs off to rejoin her self-righteous (and tediously uninteresting) boyfriend. In the movie, that is because she finds the high life emotionally unsatisfying. It is more wholesome to serve the needy projections of the blue-collar male than it is to make a lot of money, travel the world, meet achievers in all kinds of fields, and do work that actually has an impact.
The movie gives you to understand that Miranda doesn't do anything important. She does fashion. But that's to make it simple for the audience. The real Mirandas of the world include researchers, historians, book editors, professors, writers, and directors. And the real Mirandas might actually find something stimulating and interesting about traveling to cities like Paris.
This is code to the American viewer, which they understand perfectly. Even American women understand this code, because they like the movie too, and they know that Miranda is really very, very, unhappy at her job. Because, if she was happy, that would prove that it might actually be worthwhile to finish that college degree, get a good job, get better at your job, achieve things, and so on. But that would require work and dedication and ambition and self-confidence.
No, no, no-- go home and have babies. You will be fulfilled.
I wouldn't mind so much if they hadn't cheapened the story with the affronts, the suggestion that Andy can't be happily ambitious because it means she has to run a lot and put up with insults and indifference. And if only, if only, her boyfriend had one or two qualities besides an irritable and vacuous self-centeredness.
But then, if the boyfriend had been genuinely interesting, you might have wondered: was Paris also genuinely interesting?