This review contains spoilers.
Based on the novel The Devil Wears Prada, by Lauren Weisberger, the 2006 film of the same name brings a great deal to the table, namely moral, ethical, and economic issues usually absent from a comedy more concerned with appearance than reality. If you spend any time at all examining different takes on the David Frankel film, you will find a full range of opinions as to whether they got the fashion world right, whether they perverted the novel, even the simple question: is it any good?
Young Andrea (“Andy”) Sachs (Anne Hathaway) is looking for her first job as a journalist in New York City. She is a bit of slob, but she applies for a job at Runway, the world’s leading fashion magazine as an administrative assistant to Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), the most powerful person in the world of fashion. Miranda’s first assistant, Emily Charlton (Emily Blunt) cannot believe that Human Resources would send someone so unfashionable for an interview. In spite of how bad it goes, Miranda hires her anyway.
The job is horrible. Miranda is a cold, insensitive, domineering woman who makes completely unreasonable demands on her assistants, Emily is a complete snob, and Andy fails time and again in doing a good job. She complains to her boyfriend, Nate Cooper (Adrian Grenier), a chef, and Lily (Tracie Thoms) who runs an art gallery and makes fun of the ephemeral world she works in. Nonetheless, she continues because of the boost such an assignment might give her career.
At wit’s end, she solicits help from the only friendly person at Runway, Nigel (Stanley Tucci), the Art Director. Although at Size 6, she is considered “fat,” Andy blooms overnight into a fashion afficianado under Nigel’s guidance and she begins to gain Miranda’s trust, so much so that she is entrusted with delivering the mock-up book of the magazine to Miranda’s home. Although Emily gives her explicit instructions on how to do it, Andy is distracted by Miranda’s twin girls and accidentally overhears an argument between Miranda and her husband. Offended, Miranda gives her the impossible task of obtaining the latest Harry Potter book for her twins, even though it hasn’t been published yet. Andy solicits the help of a successful writer she met at a party, Christian Thompson (Simon Baker) who comes through for her. Thus proven, Miranda increasingly adopts Andy as her prime assistant and demotes Emily, going so far as to banish Emily from the annual trip to Paris and giving the opportunity to Andy. To make the assignment as nasty as possible, Miranda forces Andy to give Emily the news.
After missing Nate’s birthday because of work, her relationship becomes strained and falls apart. In Paris, she sleeps with Christian and watches as a political move by Miranda kills Nigel’s big chance to leave Runway and take part in a major worldwide release of a fashion mogul. All along this chain of events, Andy is given warnings that she has changed too much and she doesn’t believe them, until she is in Miranda’s car in Paris and Miranda tells her that they are very much alike. Andy doesn’t believe it, saying that she would never do a thing like Miranda had just done to Nigel. Amused, Miranda tells her that she has already done such a thing–to Emily.
Disillusioned, Andy walks out and seeks her future elsewhere.
My first reaction was that I didn’t like the movie.
I didn’t like what I saw as an homage to a plastic world where so much time, energy, and currency are wasted. After all, we have serious problems in this world and we are certainly no closer to solving them when billions of dollars of our resources are essentially flushed down the toilet on fashion that will be old and discarded in a matter of weeks.
I didn’t like the stereotyped characters up to and–yes–including Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Miranda, but I do believe that is more due to the script than Streep’s acting. The same could be said for most of the characters. Hathaway is fine as Andy, although I wondered sometimes at her casual reaction to tongue-lashings that would have made most of us upset. The best performances in the movie are given by Emily Blunt, who is allowed to bring great humanity to Emily (the script) and Stanley Tucci, whose own remarkable performance makes Nigel a three-dimensional character.
Aside from being a predictable plot, which isn’t always a bad thing, the holes in the story are deep and wide. After a lifetime of leaning on highly fashionable assistants and with a “million girls” aching for the job, why on earth would Miranda suddenly, inexplicably hire a slob? There is no motivation at all for “giving the smart, fat girl a chance.” Having worked for some powerful people in my time as an Administrative Assistant, I can say with some authority that Andy’s failures simply would not be tolerated on any level, yet the powerful Miranda never actually fires her. Miranda herself shows so little humanity that she comes across completely as a stereotype. Then there is the question of why Andy herself never leaves the job. She is not functioning as a journalist on the staff, she already has the job on her resume, and there is no reason at all for her to stay, especially given the opinions of Nate and Lily. Add to that all of the instances where it is pointed out to her that she’s changing in a profound and unappealing way and yet she doesn’t get it. I lost respect for her and wondered how this intelligent, down-to-earth girl could possibly be seduced to the point where she cannot see the painfully obvious shallow person she is becoming. That disrespect was fully cemented when she slept with Christian.
Given all of this, it just seems very strange that her one little scene with Miranda in the car would create the kind of transformation where she could walk away. My first reaction when she did walk away was: How can you be so stupid? Give two weeks notice! Don’t just walk out, but be smart about it. And later, how could Miranda possibly give her a positive reference after she walked out like that.
These are all very serious issues.
But when I thought about it, a number of other things occurred to me. First, the film paints the fashion world in such a shallow, mean light that it is actually doing something right. That most people didn’t see that is something of a wonder. When I watched the special features on the DVD, Frankel and the producer, Wendy Finerman, said they especially tailored the script to make the fashion world look good. Although I haven’t read the novel, it certainly made me wonder how bad the novel painted it. The movies shows us mean, shallow little people with far too much money and prestige and really makes it look bad. To me, that is a good thing!
And, although Andy surely doesn’t get what her friends are telling her, ultimately she rejects that mean, shallow world and returns being a more humble, real person. That’s a good thing, too.
Technically, the movie is well put together. The art direction and photography are superb and so is the editing. The music is really terrific.
So, the more I thought about the movie, the more I began to like it, in spite of the extremely poor writing, stereotyped characters, predictable plot, and unbelievable action. I still wouldn’t recommend the movie to anyone, but there are some elements that help to redeem it.