Virtual Toast #3: Aline Brosh McKenna

Bottoms up for the genius behind The Devil Wears Prada and other cinematic gems in our time.

Portrait by Ashlynn Cedrone for The Tonic

Portrait by Ashlynn Cedrone for The Tonic

WHO IS SHE? 

The screenwriter behind some of today’s most popular films, including The Devil Wears Prada, Morning Glory, and We Bought a Zoo.


WHAT’S HER STORY?

Before she was a writer for the silver screen, Aline Brosh McKenna was a Harvard grad in her 20s, stifled by a career in magazine journalism that was going nowhere quickly. Seeking a new avenue, she signed up for a screenwriting class, and spent the next six weeks writing a caper comedy about a criminal who unknowingly falls for an FBI agent. While that screenplay never made it to the big leagues, McKenna did. She sold the script, moved to LA, and twenty years later she’s one of the most sought-after writers in Hollywood.

Today, McKenna is known for creating screenplays that portray the realities of modern womanhood. While her leading ladies may be walking around in heels and blowouts that 99% of us can’t attain on a daily basis, their issues are certainly ones we all face. My favorite films of hers are those in which the female protagonist has a dream OTHER than acquiring some hot dude to shack up with in suburban Connecticut. In The Devil Wears Prada, for example, Andie’s main goal is to launch her career in journalism; while there are men in her periphery, they’re not at the forefront of her mind.

As McKenna herself has noted, part of the reason for this is that traditional rom-coms, rife as they are with pert, brainless, ladies, don’t make for interesting stories. As she explained to the New York Times back in 2011:

Thin people who want to be in love and their concerns about their love life — that’s not a very dynamic want…There’s that, and then there’s the nuclear briefcase. There’s a spectrum of urgency, and wanting to find someone is a not-very-directed goal. Whereas, ‘I need to get through this year and then get promoted,’ or ‘If we don’t get the ratings up the show will close down’ — there’s an urgency.


WHAT MAKES HER TOAST-WORTHY?

Her body of work speaks for itself, and more than justifies a toast — it’s no accident that Disney paid a reported seven figures for her adaptation of Cinderella. She is not only succeeding as a woman in an industry that loves to ignore women (see page 17 the 2014 Writer’s Guild of America Report for the depressing empirical evidence), but she’s succeeding period. As a writer and a human being.

She’s also a study in how to transform raw creative energy into tangible results. I think one of the hardest parts about living life as a creative person is that you have to live in the real world, which means occasionally having to conjure your muses according to a commercial schedule. McKenna is one who’s fine-tuned this ability, and if that’s not worth a drink, I don’t know what is.


WHAT ARE WE DRINKING? 

I get the sense from her interviews that Aline Brosh McKenna is a lady one does not screw with. She is a serious artist who knows her craft well, and a creative force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. To that end, I’m suggesting we toast her with something that cuts right to the chase: a black coffee followed by a tequila shot. There’s simply no space for mixers here.

Cheers to you, ABM!


LEARN MORE: 

    • Hear the NY Times wax poetic on her talent in “If Cinderella had a Blackberry” (August, 2011).
    • Take a tour of her office and watch her speak on her creative process in this video.
    • Her interview and lecture at BAFTA in September, 2010 is one I’m continually inspired by. I remember watching it for the first time and emailing J immediately afterwards because I couldn’t contain my elation at all the wisdom being proffered.

xox E

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