In David Frankel’s new film, The Devil Wears Prada, one cannot help but marvel at the brilliant Meryl Streep who takes the character of evil boss to new heights with her Miranda Priestley.
Prada is a kind of a twisted love story except that the two main characters aren’t a man and a woman in love; they are a boss and her chosen protégé. Frankel, known mostly for directing HBO’s Sex and the City is interested more in character and less in gimmick, which is ultimately what elevates Prada beyond the novel it’s based on.
Anne Hathaway plays young journalism student Andy Sachs, a star journalist from college who hits the big city in hopes of landing a job with the The New Yorker or Vanity Fair. Instead, she gets an assistant position with the long-time, fearsome Miranda, editor-in-chief of “Runway,” (aka Anna Wintour, aka Vogue). It is a job, she’s told, a thousand girls would kill for. But it is also a job Andy is completely wrong for. She’s a fashion disaster, who, at a slim size six, is told she’s too fat to work at “Runway.”
Andy takes it until she can’t take it anymore. She then has a choice: rebel or conform. She chooses the latter, transforming herself into a fashionista overnight to become Miranda’s perfect assistant. When the devil says jump, she says “how high?”
But wouldn’t you know, eventually “the life” chips away at Andy’s soul, leaving her again with a choice: should she stay or should she go. The last thing she’d ever want is to be Miranda. But is it really? Women don’t get to be in Miranda’s shoes because they run around being people pleasers; you have to be tough and being tough means you won’t have any friends left when you’re at the top of the heap.
Streep’s Miranda is a revelation. By underplaying her bitchiness she delivers the most cutting blows as casually as one would might order a coffee. She trusts no one, has spectacular taste and seems to delight in reducing young, pretty girls to tears.
But Prada would have probably been a complete failure were it not for Streep’s mature understanding of her character. She’s been quoted in interviews talking about how she didn’t like the book because the main character (Andy) came off like an entitled brat who takes the job in the first place and then complains about it. She cited examples of powerful women who are accused of being bitches when men would never be under such ridiculous scrutiny.
Herein lies Prada’s biggest problem: how do you make someone like Andy Sachs sympathetic? Why should we care if she goes to work for a fashion magazine and hates her boss? She’s lucky! She’s working in Manhattan at a top magazine. And the film goes on to show how great Andy is at everything she does. She’s so perfect and everyone else is so…so…imperfect. It’s in danger of falling prey to intellectual snootiness.
But somehow these two characters find a middle ground. And if they never like each other at least they have begrudging respect. It is this late addition to the story that ultimately saves it.
Prada has many attractive supporting players, chief among them the ever-reliable Stanley Tucci as Nigel, Miranda’s not-appreciated designer. Tucci is spot-on, has the best lines and gives the film a Sex and the City campiness it would have otherwise been lacking.
But it’s fashion itself that will have most flocking to see this movie. Some will want to see the supposed Anna Wintour ripped apart on screen (you won’t really find out anything you didn’t already know), but most will want to gaze upon the couture. The bags, the shoes, the dresses. Pat Field, who did Sex and the City also does the dressing here and the costumes do not disappoint. Hathaway, in particular, looks stunning all dolled up as a grown-up.
The Devil Wears Prada is a funny, mostly satisfying romp with a mildly touching ending. It’s rare to see a film these days about female boss and protégée. It is so often done with males. But all of that aside, Streep is still the best reason to see the film.The Devil Wears Prada opens June 30