Fashionistas beware: Andy vs. Goliath -- Hathaway is the "Devil"'s advocate Film Review: "The Devil Wears Prada"

By Omar P.L. Moore/June 29, 2006


Strike the pose: Meryl Streep, amazing in "The Devil Wears Prada."                                                                                Dandy Andy: Anne Hathaway as Andy in "Devil".

"The Devil Wears Prada," a sensational piece of entertainment, is a movie that is almost as good as the fashion wardrobe it parades.  The film is a two-hour runway of comedy -- cut-throat style -- with biting satirical flavor to boot, or should I say, to heel.  For there are plenty of shoes (Marc Jacobs, Manolo Blahnik, etc.,) coats, jackets, scarves, hats, handbags, belts (and putdowns) to go around in David Frankel's film based on Lauren Weisberger's novel of the same name.

Set in New York City, one of the fashion capitals of the planet, the fictional Runway Magazine has an editor-in-chief who puts perfection in her work above and beyond everything else in life.  For the fastidious Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) fashion and clothing lines come first, her twin daughters a close second, and married life (two divorces) a distant third.  She is the creme-de-la-creme of the fashion world.  When it comes to fashion and all things couture-related "Miranda's opinion is the only one that counts," Priestly's long-time right-hand man Nigel (Stanley Tucci) advises early on to new assistant Andrea "Andy" Sachs (Anne Hathaway) a newly-minted college graduate.  Andy initially has to survive the treacle-to-ice-cold temperament of first-assistant Emily (the terrific Emily Blunt), who is almost as outrageous a personality as Priestly is. 

The tussle between Andy and the fashion media's Goliath is a complete rout in favor of Miranda.  Andy has to withstand a blistering torrent of putdowns, insults, laundry-lists of seemingly impossible tasks to accomplish, trips to Starbucks, and, when all is said and done, icy stares from a fashion goddess whose famous last words will be a disinterested "that's all."  Woe betide anyone who forgets a minute detail, including heaven forbid, the placement of a phone call from Largerfeld.  Miranda, like many of the hard-driving men running a high-stress business, is soulless, but does have a heart not entirely made of iron, and when personal matters hit the pages of the tabloids a softer side emerges (well, maybe for about 2.2 seconds.)  In one of number of hilarious scenes Miranda is incredulous when Andy asks what something is, and when she calls the clothing being shown to fashion arrangers "stuff".  Andy's mistake is followed by Miranda's breathless verbal dissertation about "stuff" and the clothes on Andy's back.


Andy however, turns things around with Nigel's help and does her job terrifically, which for Miranda is never good enough.  Andy changes her exterior wear and her interior and predictably her new demeanor alienates her boyfriend Nate (Adrian Grenier) and her best friend Lilly (Tracie Thoms).  Andy rises and starts doing things she never dreamed of.  She encounters a renowned writer in Christian Thompson (Simon Baker) who charms her long enough to keep her mind off Nate.  Mr. Baker's mysterious looking eyebrows in his initial appearance on screen may or may not tip off viewers, but he seems a little out of place in the story written by Aline Brosh McKenna (based on Ms. Weisberger's novel.)  Perhaps his character, who is integral in saving Andy's hide on one occasion, should have had reduced billing.  Mr. Baker isn't distracting, he simply is more of an addendum to the film than any punctuation that it needs.  In other words, he is in "Prada" what many women typically are in Hollywood films dominated by male stars: window dressing.

The most impressive thing beyond the array of wardrobe in "The Devil Wears Prada" is the acting.  Meryl Streep is absolutely amazing  as Miranda.  She doesn't steal the movie scenery, she destroys it.  She is the film and her performance, a mix of detachment, wicked degradation and downright demonic delight is thoroughly entertaining throughout, even though her character never changes.  Just when you thought Streep couldn't top herself in the legendary film career she enjoys, she drives her acting skill and brilliance up several notches.  She is classic Miranda, the ultimate Cruella De Ville of the fashion magazine world.  She enjoys herself immensely, and so do we.  Rumors abounded that her performance was loosely based on Vogue Magazine editor-in-chief Anna Vintour.  Whether that is true or not hardly matters -- Ms. Steep's Miranda Priestly is a devilish pleasure and a singular sensation -- an iconic character that will be memorable long after Mr. Frankel's film has faded from the box-office charts.  Streep is scathing!  Streep is scalding!  Oh, the headlines!!

Stanley Tucci is also superb as Nigel, a man who has toiled for some 18 years (most of them tough) under Miranda as her number two, and has managed to stay around long enough to experience the whimsical nature of Priestly.  He has survived not just because of his fashion knowledge but has played politics almost as well as his boss has.  He looks for a promotion and Miranda looks at an opportunity.  Mr. Tucci is an actor who has one of the best resumes around and specializes in character portrayals.  Though he would undoubtedly thrive as a breakout A-list film actor, he appears content to shine just below that echelon, and in "Devil" his acting is a blessing.  Last but not least, Anne Hathaway grows into the role of Andy -- the circumstances that come her way here allow her to react and elevate her performance.  Other stars could have been superior in the role, but the fact that Ms. Hathaway is growing as an actor in her own right from "The Princess Diaries" to fare like "Brokeback Mountain" and now to this film, shows that she is coming-of-age onscreen.  Her emergence from neophyte status is critical to the relationship of Andy and Miranda, and augments the film.

Not surprisingly there are cameos by some of the top names in fashion: supermodels Gisele Bunchen, Heidi Klum and Bridget Hall show up on the scene, as does fashion designer Valentino Garavani.  Legendary American theater director-writer-producer extraordinaire George C. Wolfe is also present.  They all add a nice touch to "Devil", cementing it without serenading it too loudly.  The clothes and costume design (Patricia Field) music, cinematography (Florian Ballhaus) and Ms. Streep's performance do this sufficiently. 

New York City at night is breathtaking and it looks better and sharper each time it is appears either in skyline or in landmark buildings.  Transplanted New Yorkers who miss living in the Big Apple under its bright lights will be craving an instant return to the city that never sleeps when they see David Frankel's film.  Mr. Frankel showcases all the details, capturing the ABC's (and D's) of fashion and the fashion world.  The devil is in the details!  The film's direction is energetic and Madonna's songs "Jump" (in particular) and "Vogue" punctuate the style and attitude of New York City and the demanding business of fashion. 

"The Devil Wears Prada" as a movie is clean and tidy, and as finely-tuned as the hemlines and necklines that dominate the pages of a photo shoot in Vogue magazine.  While the satire and politics of Fashion Avenue is are not far from the story in "Prada", Mr. Frankel avoids turning the film into a free-for-all about the downside of the fashion industry.  Robert Altman's commanded that particular territory to aplomb in "Pret-A-Porter" in the mid-1990's.  "Devil" is crisply edited by Mark Livolsi, notably the opening credit sequence and several montages, one of Miranda entering the office and dumping her wardrobe on Andy's desk, and another showcasing Andy's growth as Miranda's assistant.

"The Devil Wears Prada" is priceless -- one of the best and most entertaining films of the summer.  See it now.  Woe betide you if you don't.

"The Devil Wears Prada" is rated PG-13 for some sensuality.  The film runs for one hour and 49 minutes.  Ms. Streep's photo by: Brigitte Lacombe.  Top photo of Ms. Hathaway by Barry Wetcher.

Copyright 2006.  All Rights Reserved.



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