Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada - Movie Review

The Devil Wears Prada 2006

"I don't know why writing literature is seen as a loftier goal than writing books that people really can read on a beach or a plane."
- Lauren Weisberger

"People can read literature on a beach or a plane as well, you stupid twat."
- The Bloody Red Carpet

Since the dawn of cinema, the classic tale of a small town girl who comes to the big city in search of fame, romance and happiness has played out across flickering screens. Hell, Joan Crawford made a career out of it even when her small town girl was looking fifty seven around the blurred soft focus edges. The latest installment in this film staple genre is “The Devil Wears Prada”, based on the ridiculously successful thinly veiled roman à clef by one Lauren Weisberger.

It tells the insipidly simple tale of one Andrea Sachs, but everybody calls her Andy – or stupid, dumb, naïve twat – but we’ll get to that later, played by the lovely and talented Anne Hathaway. She comes to the big, evil city in search of fame as a budding journalist and ends up taking the job of second assistant to the most powerful and influential woman in fashion. We could hit you over the head with the backstory of who that certain powerful and influential woman might actually be, but then we would have to declare you brain dead and really what’s the point?

The ferociously controlling fashion doyenne is played by none other than Meryl Streep, who is having an incredibly fun time playing a cunt in designer togs. And kudos to her! For the main problem with “The Devil Wears Prada”, and there are many – is that we care more for the uptight raving bitch than the lovable small town gal. It doesn’t help that the small town gal is surrounded by a boyfriend and chums straight out of sitcom casting hell, and that she is given fuck all to emote over the course of the screenplay.

Meryl Streep hardly needs an intro at this point, but it service to her craft we will remind you that this not the first time she has parlayed the role of a heartless, vain creature. Starting with her film debut as the society bitch chum of Jane Fonda in the very fine “Julia” – also based on real events, but with a much higher literary pedigree coming from the pen of Lillian Hellman – to her chilling Oscar nominated turn as a seemingly cold hearted mother in “A Cry in the Dark”, to the wickedly self absorbed romance novelist in “She-Devil” and her aging actress in search of the fountain of youth in “Death Becomes Her”.

Now, we are about to enter sacrosanct territory here and confess that while we have been impressed with several of Meryl’s performances over the decades – we have never found her to be a particularly brilliant comedienne. Relax people. Unclench your cheeks and pay attention and learn. For all of Meryl’s vaunted talent and very capable skills with accents and wigs, she has always lacked the ability to truly pull of a soaring comic creation. Her domain has always been one of drama - she is our great tragedienne. Despite the Oscar nomination her turn in “Postcards from the Edge” received, we feel it had more to do with lackluster roles for leading ladies than award caliber comic delivery. The old vet Shirley MacLaine stole that film out from Meryl’s elongated nose and ran with it, due to her finely tuned comic chops.

Here Meryl hits all the right notes and delivers two very fine moments, perhaps the highlights of the film. One, her take no prisoners monologue about the importance of fashion and its own particular “trickle down theory”. And two, when attempting to explain her reasoning for hiring such an unspeakably unqualified assistant as Miss Anne Hathaway, her expertly delivered punchline of “hire the smart fat girl” enters its own quotable quotes lexicon to be heard during two-for-one Happy Hour at Gay Bars the world over.

Which may be precisely the audience for this bizarrely unimaginative but intriguingly well cast (as far as the two leads go) flick. For certainly in the past, we have had more interesting films dealing with the world of high fashion. Hell, the opening ten minutes of “Funny Face” nails it spot on, with more élan and less thumpingly dull filler than the entirety of this sad little flick. And as for the publishing world, as seen from the eyes of a young innocent assistant having to deal with a cold hearted bitch for a boss – well, that was done forty seven years ago with the aforementioned Joan Crawford in “The Best of Everything”.

We sorely miss Meryl when she is not on the screen, not due to any heartfelt realism (although they try unsuccessfully to ram that down our throats with a ludicrous divorce scenario for the Miranda character – why bother to add a human dimension to this woman when she clearly doesn’t need one?), but rather due to the veneer thin tedious relationship drama being enacted by our gal Anne and the hideously freakish Adrian Grenier.

Can we just stop her for a moment and question how this young man with the cleft palette ever entered into a successful acting career? (Although if they ever make a big screen musical version of “Cats” – they need look no further for their Bombalurina!) We know that the knuckle dragging set enjoy his horrid little show on HBO for some obtuse reason, but why transfer him to the big screen to frighten us with his gerbil like jawline and Brillo pad wig and much worse for all involved his complete and total inability to emote on camera? We do register that he has a skootch of charisma that enables him to coast on such difficult lines as: “Hello.”, “Goodbye” and “Hi”. But anything more complicated than that and he simply evaporates into the ether.

It doesn’t help that Simon Baker, that delicious little crumpet from Down Under portrays a viable romantic option for Andy. Go with the Aussie, you stupid girl!

Anne Hathaway may have found her claim to fame with the braces set in a duo of frothy Cinderella inspired junk – but we have a soft spot for her in her brave attempts to venture forth into adult fare. Her lovely supporting work in the fine “Nicholas Nickleby” remake and her very fine turn in last years “Brokeback Mountain” assured us of her talent. A talent that is sadly gone to waste as the formless thing called Andrea Sachs. A seemingly talented journalist that is completely incapable of assessing a situation directly in front of her face is hardly a well thought out central lead. We understand that many young girls expect instant fame and glory by starting out as an assistant, but if you are trying to depict an intelligent young woman paying her dues in the big city, you might want to make her appear, oh we don’t know . . . intelligent?

And that ultimately is the problem with “The Devil Wears Prada”. Hollow characterizations, an unworkable romance subplot and a vapid central character that earns no respect from the audience. When it comes time for the “sweet Andrea character to triumph over the “nastyMiranda – we could care less. We might have mustered up the energy to be slightly more interested if the key “transformation” scene from shlubby Midwestern girl to fashionista assistant didn’t come with a wardrobe culled from a nouveau riche Pakistani-housewife-by-way-of-Southampton.

The fault, dear readers lies not in our stars but in our source material, writers and director. A light frothy piece of fiction can sometimes make for a good film adaptation, but typically ends up being a cinematic piece of shit. A director better known for episodic television aimed at the testosterone set may not be the best pick for a film dealing with two allegedly strong female leads set amidst the Condé Nast set.

Stay home and rent “Funny Face” and “The Best of Everything” for a far more satisfying evening. Bless you all!

Directed by David Frankel
Screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna
Based on the thinly veiled roman à clef by Lauren Weisberger

Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly
Anne Hathaway as Andy Sachs
Stanley Tucci as Nigel
Emily Blunt as Emily
Adrian Grenier as Nate
Tracie Thoms as Lilly
Rich Sommer as Doug
Simon Baker as Christian Thompson
Daniel Sunjata as James Holt
David Marshall Grant as Richard Barnes
James Naughton as Stephen

Cinematography by Florian Ballhaus
Film Editing by Mark Livolsi
Original Music by Theodore Shapiro
Production Design by Jess Gonchor
Art Direction by Anne Seibel & Tom Warren
Set Decoration by Lydia Marks
Costumes Borrowed from Famous Fashion Houses by Patricia Field’s various assistants


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