More than a decade after its release, The Devil Wears Prada has remained a beloved cult classic, an endless source of iconic lines (“No no, that wasn’t a question”), and designer outfit inspiration.
But after a few dozen (or hundred) rewatches, a peculiar realization emerges: Nate (Adrian Grenier) — Andy’s (Anne Hathaway) tousle-haired, grilled-cheese-making boyfriend — is kind of the worst. He mocks her for her new interest in fashion, he trivializes the magazine she works at, and dismisses her hard work. And, perhaps most egregiously, he tantrums about Andy missing his birthday dinner because she had to work an important gala — a major step up for her at her job. No grown man should care that much about his birthday.
“That was a ‘girlfriend’ part, really,” said screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna. “That’s a part that a lot of women end up playing, the ‘why aren’t you home more,’ the naggy wife. I have to say, that character was the biggest challenge to write, and oddly, the character [director David Frankel] and I talked about the most, because 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?'”
Nate plays a crucial role in the narrative of the story, as the conscience-like voice of Andy’s previous self as she’s sucked into the world of Runway — becoming the type of person who flirts with handsome authors and who’s willing to betray her co-worker Emily (Emily Blunt) to go to Paris.
“I think that now, however many years later, what people focus on is that he’s trying to restrict her ambition,” McKenna said. “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.”
Grenier walks a fine line with Nate: the character had to be needy but not annoying, hunky without seeming implausible.
“I think Adrian does a heroic job of seeming like that actual college boyfriend, that guy who’s a drummer in a cool band, and plays intramural rugby, and plays guitar, and maybe took a ceramics class,” McKenna said. “I think Adrian just nails that, and it is a bit of a thankless role.”
McKenna also pointed out that Andy’s friends were also sort of the worst. “The friends are not very supportive of her! 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.”
Although The Devil Wears Prada is often grouped into the “romcom” category, it’s not really a romance. The real relationship at the heart of the film is between Andy and her professional ambitions. Devilish as she might be, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) isn’t entirely a villain, and Andy’s friends and boyfriend don’t represent some wholesome moral center from which she’s strayed. It’s a movie about a girl learning that ambition requires sacrifice, and figuring out exactly which sacrifices she’s willing to make.
Nate may be a mediocre boyfriend, but Andy’s love story had nothing to do with him.
*Miranda Priestly voice* That’s all.