It's been a while since I've heard a musical as cheesy - or as schmaltzy - as 2002's Thoroughly Modern Millie. It's a soppy show that I would be glad never to see in a theater or on the big screen. What's the problem, you may ask? I'll tell you what the problem is: the protagonist, Millie Dillmount.
From the get-go, Millie Dillmount reminds me of Carrie Meeber from Sister Carrie. Sister Carrie is a novel by Theodore Dreiser, about a waif who searches for happiness in big cities around the turn of the 20th century. The "virtuous," "innocent" waif (Carrie Meeber) acts on her desires to acquire social status, fame, friendship, romance and wealth, and gets them all by the end of the novel. But here's the thing: I loathe Carrie Meeber. I hate, hate, hate her. She makes me angry.
Hatred for literary characters aside, what resemblance do I see between Carrie and Millie? Well, both girls start by escaping small hometowns for the glamour of a big city (Millie for New York City; Carrie for Chicago - and later, New York City). Both heroines cut their families out of their lives the moment they step off the train. ("Not For the Life of Me" seems to emphasize this in Thoroughly Modern Millie.) Both want to be stylish ("Thoroughly Modern Millie" illustrates this for Millie). Finally, both are primarily focused on wealth, and are prepared to use men to get it (Millie plans to seduce and marry a rich boss who'll provide for her; Carrie drains cash out of playboy Charles Drouet, dumps him, and latches onto George Hurstwood until he's too poor to support her).
So, after reading all these comparisons, you probably think I dislike Carrie and Millie for the same reasons, right? Actually, while I do dislike them for all the things they have in common, I dislike them also for different reasons. That's because they are fundamentally different characters.
I abhor Carrie because she is staked out as "virtuous," but treats those around her as a means to an end. She seduces, manipulates and prostitutes herself to men so that she'll have money to buy herself pretty things. She uses people to feed her ever-burning desire, considering them only insofar as how they help her mount the social ladder.
Moreover, Carrie's never satisfied. Even after she becomes famous, rich, and flocked by admirers, at the end of the book she's still dreaming of "such happiness as [she] may never feel" (Sister Carrie 418. Ed. Claude Simpson. The Riverside Press: Cambridge, 1959. Print). And we're supposed to feel sorry for this broad?!? Go jump in a lake, you ungrateful wench!!
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Millie isn't as bad as Carrie in terms of her desire. Unlike Carrie, she does learn to be grateful for something; she does learn to be satisfied with poverty. Near the end of Thoroughly Modern Millie, she makes a big transition when she decides that love is more important than wealth (although her budding romance with Jimmy is not without its touch of greed, as the song "Gimme Gimme" suggests). On the whole, Millie is superior to Carrie because she is influenced by morality, and is capable of selflessness and love. Carrie is capable of neither.
But while I respect Millie more for her capacity to love and make sacrifices, I have a great amount of contempt for her. She's mostly wishy-washy, ditzy, and irritating. She's also as flat as a fairy-tale heroine, so her moral epiphany is completely expected and thus completely boring. If Millie struggled more with morality, or went through enough hardships to earn her happy ending, I might feel more invested in her story.
To make things worse, her lesson in humility - that is, her decision to marry a poor, "green-glass love" - becomes pointless when it turns out that Jimmy is rich after all. (You could see this twist ending coming a mile away.) The one time Millie seemed remotely sympathetic was when she appeared ready to accept a humble life. But she ends up getting EVERYTHING she wants, so there's no need for a character transition. How disgustingly anticlimactic.
Whether you share my feelings on Millie and Carrie, or whether you have more sympathy in your hearts for either heroine, I leave up to you. Read Dreiser's book and listen to some of Thoroughly Modern Millie (Youtube videos below), and then let me know how much you agree/disagree with my thoughts.