Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada

The title is stupendous, and of course the story’s provenance is intriguing (based on Lauren Weisberger’s lightly fictionalised experience as Anna Wintour’s assistant). I have been looking forward to this film all year, and it did not disappoint – superbly crafted entertainment and one of the sharpest films about fashion ever, because it focuses so intently on the financial power of the industry, and understands the mechanics and the redundancy of consumer desire. Unlike Altman’s Prêt-à-Porter, for example, The Devil Wears Prada ignores designer eccentricities in favour of cold, hard brutal economics and its effects on the characters.

Meryl Streep’s performance as Miranda Priestly, the editor of Runway magazine, completely makes the film and I reckon will become legendary. On one level just a ‘character’ role – she’s the devil boss – Streep’s subtlety and laser sharp comic timing, allied with a brilliant script by Aline Brosh McKenna, transcends genre. Streep channels both the evil and the insidious seductiveness of the devil (say, Milton’s devil), conjuring up our admiration and even our sympathy. Priestly understands power inside-out: barely raising her voice above a whisper, she instils complete terror in her staff of glossy lovelies. And the film ruthlessly shows how they have to be lovely, just as a basic requirement of survival in this jungle.

Anne Hathaway plays Andy, the high-minded journalism graduate who lands the job millions would kill for and decides she wants to stick out a year for her CV’s sake. In this urban fairy tale, she’s a Cinderella who learns the fashion game: we watch her progress from goof to glamazon, but slowly and unwittingly become corrupted by her ambition. Her performance is a great foil for Streep's: a wide-eyed ingenue, and yet clever, committed, and emotionally true.

As with Sex and the City, part of the joy of this film is the level of intelligence and skill which have been invested in something so basically entertaining. Director David Frankel has worked excellently on both; costume designer Patricia Field has as well. Her work in this movie is very notable – gone are the endearing quirk and fashion-forwardness of Sex in the City; here all is high-taste, high-glamour, high-powered.

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