Streep upstages all in fashionable film
Now that I’m out on my own I take a less hyperbolic perspective, but only out of necessity ― I still can’t bring myself to wander about in Mervyn’s or Grand Mart and coo at colored hunks of fabric meant only to smooth over social relationships and to keep me from freezing to death.
So in principle I should be very sympathetic to the main character in “The Devil Wears Prada,” a recent Northwestern University graduate, just like me, who finds herself starting a job she is completely unprepared for, just as I did, at New York’s top fashion magazine ― here, thank God, is where our fates diverge.
Her new employer is Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), the editor in chief of the fictional Runway magazine and most powerful woman in fashion. Priestly shares striking similarities with Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue magazine, though the author of the original “Devil” book denies the association.
Priestly is the nightmare boss, demanding a flight out of Miami during a hurricane, never remembering her assistants’ names and ordering Andy to find the unreleased manuscript of the next “Harry Potter” book for her two daughters (a feat Andy more than a little implausibly pulls off).
Streep is so perfect ― bringing emotional complexity and even sympathy to her egotistical villain ― that she can’t help but upstage everyone else in the film, particularly her hapless co-star Anne Hathaway as Andy Sachs, the new assistant. Sachs’ name and resume (of which we are reminded throughout the film) say intelligent, determined steamroller with no fashion sense. Over the course of the film, Sachs is supposed to gain an appreciation for the importance and influence of the fashion industry, only to realize how unhealthy it is to work for such a calculating Machiavelli.
But instead of building a defiant, fit sparring partner for Streep who transforms from self-confident firebrand to broken graduate facing the real world to well-dressed manipulator and finally to mature adult possessed of self-knowledge, Hathaway starts out a slouchy mumbler, becomes a slouchy mumbler in nice clothes, and then goes back to the slouchy mumbler again.
Simply put, Streep acts, and Hathaway acts cute.
Andy’s home life is likewise a sickeningly dull and loosely sketched knockoff of college-age TV dramas like “Felicity” ― they serve their obvious and predictable function in the plot forgettably.
The only other redeeming quality in the film is its treatment of the fashion world, with Runway designer Nigel, wonderfully portrayed by the underrated Stanley Tucci, at its center. His character is a compelling example of real passion in the industry, and keeps “Devil Wears Prada” from being too critical of the industry in which it’s set.
I remain unconvinced that clothes shopping is a good use of my time, but some of the suits did look really snappy. Now all I need is hundreds of dollars in discretionary income.
by Ben Applegate