The Devil Wears Prada


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

The Devil Wears Prada

Robert Altman's The Player (1992) represented a rare moment in cinema history when a bunch of A-list actors were for once willing to tear up Hollywood's golden rule by tearing into themselves and their own industry. So when Altman announced that he was turning his attention to the fashion business, hopes were high for similar fireworks, only to be dashed by the self-indulgent inanity that was Prêt-à-Porter (1994), one of Altman's worst films. Even Zoolander (2001) had greater insight into haute couture. Now, however, there is an expectant buzz surrounding David Frankel's The Devil Wears Prada, adapted from the novel by Lauren Weisberger. Could this at last be the satirical stitch-up the fashion industry so truly deserves?

In a word, no. If you are an adult but have not lost your taste for fairy tales, this film is for you. Ditto if if you are hankering for an updated version of Mike Nichols' Working Girl (1988), or if you want to see Meryl Streep pull off yet another note-perfect performance (and without Streep's presence, one suspects that this film would be straight-to-video). But if you are out to see the doyens and duenas of high-end costumery brought down a peg, you may well leave disappointed. For while The Devil Wears Prada is set in the world of fashion, includes cameos from a variety of fashion luminaries, and unashamedly parades product placement by the wardrobeful, strangely all the fashion here ends up being just an accessory to what is essentially a mixed-message morality tale about individual integrity and the work-life balance.

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Bright college graduate Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) has given up a future in law to pursue her true love, journalism, but when she applies for work with a huge publishing corporation, she is sent for an interview to be the new assistant to Miranda Priestly (Streep), editor-in-chief of fashion-setting style magazine Runway and the boss from hell. Though uninterested in fashion, Andy is desperate to prove herself, and when hired on a whim she gradually conforms to the magazine's corporate image and lets her personal life slip, while wondering if she has sold her soul. Naturally there is the boyfriend (Adrien Grenier) who loves her for who she really is, the gay confidante (Stanley Tucci) who gives her a makeover, the mean colleague (Emily Blunt) who is really not so bad, and the love rival (Simon Baker) who turns out to be just a little caddish. And did I mention that Madonna's Vogue finds its inevitable place on the soundtrack?

So far, so predictable. But amidst all Miranda's delightfully catty remarks, what is missing is anything like a vicious attack on the industry itself that she represents and largely controls. Miranda may be a complicated and sometimes cruel character, as mesmerising to watch as the devil of the title, and in many ways as admirable as she is deplorable - but her faults all relate to office politics and power games, and as such could be found in any corporate environment. They certainly do not reflect the shallow, self-absorbed specificities of the designer trade.

Meanwhile, the film constantly reminds us that the designers whose works Miranda publishes are "some of the greatest artists of the century", that their clothes, handbags and shoes are objects of consummate beauty, and that their influence extends to every item of clothing, expensive or cheap, that we ever wear (and, hopefully, buy). Andy's initial problems at work - chiefly involving a failure to arrange a last-minute flight over the telephone for her boss - are somehow magically resolved when she starts wearing the right clothes, in a non sequitur that seems contrived as a gratuitous defense of fashion's awesome power.

And of course the cliched 'inner beauty' line that the film pretends to peddle is matched by conspicuous quantities of outer beauty. "I don't fit in here, I'm not skinny or glamorous", concedes Andy in her job interview with Miranda - but she is skinny by any standards, and glamorous even in the casual clothes that the film tries to use as a bizarre code for dowdy. How much more daring it might have been to cast in the lead rôle someone short, fat and with a spotty complexion - but that would go against the prevailing ideology of the big fashion houses, whose interests this film seems designed to serve rather than sever.

There are some witty lines and pretty outfits, but when it comes to diabolical satire, The Devil Wears Prada merely strikes a pose.

Reviewed on: 11 Sep 2006
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The Devil Wears Prada packshot
A young journalist struggles to survive in the cut-throat world of fashion.
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Read more The Devil Wears Prada reviews:

Chris ****
Andrea Mullaney ***
Paul Griffiths ***

Director: David Frankel

Writer: Aline Brosh McKenna, based on the novel by Lauren Weisberger

Starring: Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Adrien Grenier, Tracie Thoms, Rich Sommer

Year: 2006

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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