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Wayners Digs Prada

Published July 5, 2006 in Movie Reviews
By Wayne Aronsen | Image property of 20th Century Fox.
The Devil Wears Prada The Devil Wears Prada
Meryl Streep, reaching the age of the “mature actress” remains apart from her colleagues in being typecast as the strident, acid–tongued, woman who prefer munching on men with their cosmopolitan martinis instead of fried calamari– the likes of Shirley Maclain, Olympia Dukakis and Elia Kaza.

The Devil Wears Prada Review

I went to the film to have fun but doubted that the soft-spoken Streep could pull off her assigned roll as “the dragon lady” editor of the fictional fashion magazine, “Runway”. Miranda Priestly (Streep) is in the process of hiring a new assistant. Andrea Sachs (Ann Hathaway), fresh out of college, hits the pavement, in search of a job which will eventually lead her to her real love–journalism.

Hollywood, bless its fickle heart, is just as resistant to change as ever. Let’s keep that tired 60’s mantra that journalism is at the helm of this country’s priesthood, drawing in the young and brave idealists, much like going into the ministry was in a previous era. At the end of this film, Ann Hathaway’s character has that choice.

But back to Streep’s character -- Miranda Priestly -- just how DOES she pull it off with that sweet voice? Simple, by dismissal; the cruelest of tactics, whether by a parent or a spouse or a friend. Just a look of indifference, a flick of one finger, and “that’s all”, and poof, you no longer matter. No doubt, the actress herself developed this manner in making the movie. You don’t hear Miranda raise her voice a single time in the film. She’s like one of the best instructors you had in school, who you likely hated at the time, but proved a master at controlling the class; by expecting respect, and earning it merely by her terrible presence. It does help to be a legendary actress.

Andrea Sachs, (brings to mind Dickens, who created the art of naming people to sound like their character), is the unlikely choice of Miranda to be number two assistant to the brittle and tormented number one assistant, Emily (played by Emily Blunt). Miranda’s one means of control is to belittle her staff, so she refers to any assistant as “Emily”. Until you are promoted in her mind, you don’t have a name.

Andrea appears as the frumpy college prep in her “lumpy blue sweater” but graduates to style, with the help of Stanley Tucci’s character, Nigel, the long-suffering staff member of the magazine. And how well she does it. That long, shapely body of Hathaway with those dilated brown eyes make her a knock-out when she adopts the styles she once dismissed. He character is kept all the more warm to our hearts and the hearts of any mothers in the audience, by her charming self-deprecating personality around that striking face. Once in the hands of Dior, Chanel and Clinique, Klein, Lauren, Via Spiga, Kate Spade, Prada and the others on the A list, she is transformed into a vision–no matter what you’re attitude toward high fashion.

The film is not at all a slap on fashion. There are moments– as required in Hollywood comedies–of respectful sincerity. Think of the incestuous bond between film and fashion! We can’t be too hard on them. Nigel, (Stanley Tucci) has surprisingly direct advice to the beleaguered Andrea after a Miranda session. “We’re not speaking about inner beauty, here”; it’s a billion dollar industry built on the backs of giants (and he names a few) who have worked hard to somehow influence every piece of clothing we buy; even, I suppose, if we shop at Target. He has a point. Nigel’s advice to anyone on staff is classic: “unless you’re panicked, nervous, or suicidal, she’s not happy”.

And that’s the way she runs her magazine, and much of the world around her.

But remember the fashion, girls. You get an eyeful of New York, and Paris, headquarters of style. There is a scene of Andrea, in short clips, rushing across Time’s Square, in one new outfit after another, like a 2006 Mary Tyler Moore, except Andrea wouldn’t dream of tossing her hat into the air; not with accessories costing in the thousands.

David Frankel, the director, keeps the tension alive, even through the later stages of the film, when the dreaded message has to interrupt the fun, the glitz, and parade of beautiful people (confess it–you’re just as likely to be star-struck as the next person), such as Valentino, Heidi Klum and Bridget Hall, and models– no one over a size four. It’s a glamorous and intoxicating business, and one people would kill for; and have.

Some other actors: Simon Baker, as Christian Thompson, a fashion writer trying his best–and briefly with success–to lure away the stunning Andrea from her “port reduction” chef of a boyfriend, Adrien Granier, who waits patiently, and thankfully for the purpose of the film, with little complaint, for the girl in the lumpy sweater to return.

Prada follows the Hollywood’s formula of comic suffering, success and self awareness and making the tough, but right decision in the end. But is this the case here? There remains a grudging and lingering admiration for Miranda Priestly; the shrewd, demanding woman of power who has, we have to admit, fulfilled the American dream of success, even admitting the high personal price to pay. You may not dislike Miranda all that much after all. And, come on, Andrea! You were so good at it. Couldn’t you just stick it out longer and forget the one-room flat with the nice boyfriend. As Nigel said, “a million girls would kill for this job”.

The Devil Wears Prada is out in theatres now.

For more movie info and synopsis, go to The Devil Wears Prada Movie Page.

Stay tuned for updates.

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Wayne Aronsen
Sources: Image property of 20th Century Fox.

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