The older male mentor is a chick flick staple character whose pervasiveness is on par with the manic pixie dream girl. The standout example of this character, of course, is Stanley Tucci’s Nigel, who turns Andy from a sad sack who’s barely holding it together at her job into a glamazon who quickly rises through the ranks in The Devil Wears Prada. Also in the category of “fabulous men who turn poorly dressed brunettes into supermodels” would be Victor from Miss Congeniality. In Legally Blonde, where the main character is already well dressed, Elle receives ample encouragement and law advice from Emmett. And while it’s not strictly speaking a chick flick, any discussion of female characters and their male mentors would be incomplete without a nod to the ultimate male mentor, 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy. Without JD, we’d all still be dating beeper salesmen and none of us would know that it’s mandatory to wear a tuxedo after 6pm (unless you’re a farmer, of course).
I believe that the combined influence of these movies has caused me to spend years searching for the Perfect Male Mentor (and apparently, I am not alone in this quest). I’ve kind of always believed that eventually I was going to find some really well dressed, articulate older guy who would tell me all the magical secrets to success at my job, as well as in my life. I’ve auditioned many candidates over the years, and none have quite measured up. While any professional guidance I’ve gotten has always been pretty sound, insight into other areas of my life has been…lacking. One guy calls every outfit I wear “bohemian” despite the fact that my style is more along the lines of “J.Crew stuff I bought in college.” Another somehow manages to turn any and all conversations into a discussion of why I’m not married yet. The one really decent piece of advice I’ve been given (“Don’t let one idiot ruin you forever”) was already given to me ten years ago by a movie.
Despite none of my potential mentors being the Alec Baldwin type I’m looking for, I’ve still tended to place a lot of stock in their advice. I’ve somehow been conditioned by the media to believe that as a woman, the person who will best be able to tell me what I should be doing with my life is an older man, and it’s only recently occurred to me that this is absurd. Far too many times, I’ve actually ignored my own desires or best judgment to instead pursue what’s been suggested to me by a mentor, and frankly, it’s rarely worked out for the best. (It’s little consolation that the same seems to be true for Liz Lemon.)
It shouldn’t be a revolutionary idea to me that the best person to figure out my life is me, but somehow it is. In the movies, life always seems so much easier when someone older and wiser swoops in to tell you how to succeed, and to make sure you’re wearing an appropriate amount of Chanel. Alas, I work in a field where no one knows Pucci from Prada and the last time most people wore a tuxedo was at their wedding. Fashion faux pas aside, I also exist in the real world, where it’s unreasonable to think that a middle aged man would have any insight whatsoever into what I should be doing with my career or my life as a twenty-something woman. While it would be foolish to disregard all the advice given to me by those older and ostensibly wiser, this particular piece of movie magic needs to be taken with a grain of salt. For every Nigel, there’s also a Julian. While none of my mentors have ever had anything but the best motives, they also don’t know my motives. From now on, I’m going to stop listening to what someone else thinks is best for me and start doing what I know is best for me. Sorry, guys, auditions for the role of my mentor are officially closed, unless you have access to the Vogue shoe closet.
Image via Thread