The Devil Wears Prada (PG-13)
A foolishly idealistic writer goes to work for a viciously competitive editor in The Devil Wears Prada, a comedy based on the book of the same name about one girl's experience in the fashion magazine universe.
And indeed, Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) is quite the girl. Just out of college and living with her chef-boyfriend in New York City, Andy wants to be A Serious Journalist. Those jobs, naturally, are taken by grown-ups and so her best chance at employment comes when she interviews at Runway magazine. There, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) needs a second assistant to fill the two-assistant team working outside her office. First assistant Emily (Emily Blunt) meets Andy with her rumpled shirt and blazer, her frizzed hair, her minimal make-up and tells her she's completely wrong for the job. But Miranda tired of hiring pretty, fashion-conscious girls who (in her words) end out to be stupid decides to take a chance on the Runway-ignorant but self-proclaimed fast-learner Andy.
Andy proves to be not quite fast enough for Miranda and is constantly finding herself working under a cloud of Miranda's icy disapproval. Andy works late hours for crappy pay but can't seem to win over Miranda. The magazine's artistic director Nigel (Stanley Tucci) tells her that even though she disdains fashion she can't just dismissively work her job, she must throw herself into it wholeheartedly. Thus Andy undergoes a makeover to become Andrea, a more fabulous, sleeker-dressed version of herself. This new incarnation decides to care about her job (in part because she's promised that after a year she will be able to write her own ticket) and learns to fulfill Miranda's craziest whims (a request for the not-yet-published latest manuscript of Harry Potter, for example). Andy's friends, however, don't like this new her. Boyfriend Nate (Adrian Grenier) thinks she's compromising her ethics and beliefs and seriousness for fancy shoes. Her other friends scorn her and even Andy has some moral qualms about putting so much energy into helping a magazine cover the spring line.
So, what does it say about me that I feel more empathy for Miranda than Andy?
Overall, The Devil Wears Prada is moderately entertaining for the way in which using fashion as the subject matter opens the door for a certain amount of bitchery, for the way the movie parodies every painful bottom-rung job, for the way it shows us pretty pretty clothes and sexy fun shoes. (Even if you aren't someone who regularly lusts after pretty clothes and sexy shoes, The Devil Wears Prada dazzles you with the couture and even gets you wondering if it would be worth a trip to the Donna Karan or Prada store, you know, just to try things on.)
What irked me about the film was the idea that we should be shocked, shocked that poor poor Andy is expected to take her job seriously and work really hard at it. At one point in the film, she whines about how she gets no credit for trying. "Credit for trying" is something that ceases to have any meaning once you leave middle school so why should it suddenly be relevant in a competitive workforce? And competitive is a key word as several characters say in the film, a million girls would kill for her job. In such an environment going above and beyond isn't exceptional, it's expected. Comfortable 40-hour-a-week jobs and a swank lifestyle are honors earned after years in the business.
Or in Miranda's case not. She's still a workaholic (a fact that we see do damage to her personal life). But she's not tyrannical especially compared with other a-year-with-me-could-make-you type bosses such as Kevin Spacey's character from Swimming with Sharks. She's particular and demanding and, we gather, good at her job in an environment where she's always a few steps away from losing it. Miranda is less the devil and more a really competent general, one who must be strict enough to be victorious in battle and engender enough fear so none of the troops shoot her in the back.
Streep's ultimately the best part of The Devil Wears Prada. She plays her character as a woman who uses drama scaring everyone as she enters the building, telling an employee in a quiet voice that she's disappointed in her to solidify her power over her employees. And yet she is pragmatic and, occasionally, human. We see the sacrifices she makes to keep her professional status (and not in a harried-mom, having-it-all kind of way; the film makes the rare point that sometimes you specifically have to choose career or marriage and suffer real losses as a result of that choice). Streep also makes her character a study in coolness from her glacier-like short white hair to her always-calm attitude.
The movie ends with a bit of silly fantasy that could have been set to the "You're going to make it after all" music from the Mary Tyler Moore show. But forget all that. Like a forbidden Frappuccino after months of low-fat lattes, The Devil Wears Prada is true guilty pleasure. B
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