July 08, 2006
The Devil Wears Nada
The devil of this film, however, is fully clothed at all times. Her name is Miranda Priestly, and she is the editor in chief of Runway magazine. Her real-life analogue is Anna Wintour, helmswoman of Vogue, and the script for The Devil Wears Prada is an adaptation of a novel written by one of Wintour’s disgruntled ex-admins.
But as devils go, I’m afraid Priestley is a piker. Yes, she’s relentlessly demanding, boorish, self-obsessed, tactless, and unkind. But I’m afraid the script, and Ms. Streep’s portrayal, which includes donning Wintour’s signature silver-white mane, gives too much away about this putative dragon lady too soon. There’s a wry, impish grin always straining to burst out of the grimaced visage of the workaholic businesswoman. And don’t we already know that she’s paid a heavy price for her enormous success: She’s much gossiped about, another marriage is on the rocks, and her children will probably grow up to write books about her, with blurbs from their various therapists, most of whom will have guested on Oprah pitching books of their own. So let her have her townhouse, sychophants, and habitués of haute couture. We know that deep down, she’s really unhappy…
And what of her prey—the unstylish wannabe journalist, Andrea, played by Princess Diaries’ Anne Hathaway? Will she crumble under Priestly’s iron fist? Will she rise to the occasion and meet her employer’s unreasonable demands, simply to show her she can? Or will she be won over, sell her soul, prostitute her values, in order to gain access to a size-2 world that affords one every luxury?
We know this story. And we know how it will end. We know every twist and turn—the angry boyfriend, the homosexual confidante, the tortured conscience turned dragon-lady apologist.
And yet, I am ashamed to say I was nevertheless entertained by this predictable bauble. Blame Hathaway’s ingenuousness ingenue. While you can see the plot kinks coming, one almost wishes she would Faust out and follow her reluctant mentor to fame, fortune, and anorexia. Why not? You can’t help but believe she could reach the ice queen’s airy heights and yet maintain a dollop of compassion for those she has stepped on to make her ascent. And what would be so bad about that?
And that is the true temptation of this tale. You can lose your soul in more ways than one. There is success at any price—even at the cost of loyalty to friends and family. And there is the belief that success consists solely in playing by “the rules.” Andrea’s boyfriend tells her that he wouldn’t care if she were a pole dancer, so long as she did it with integrity. This is what passes for wisdom in films these days, I am horrified to say. How does one act with integrity if the very thing you are acting in is itself a projection of the fragmented and alienated self? And there's still the larger question of who is using whom in this scenario. Every pathetic wretch who passes through Runway's offices acknowledges that Priestly is a witch, yet they still want that one year of experience under her withering gaze in order to advance their publishing careers.
Andrea would have failed as a Priestly creature even if she had managed to keep a family intact and properly reward her underlings, because she would still be selling a lie to a susceptible public. Priestly attempts to justify her obsession with the fashion world by explaining that even Andrea’s pilly "poly-blend" sweater that she just threw on is a distant offshoot of some vaunted designer’s color of choice, which had made its way to the bargain basement once that season’s designs had played themselves out among the gaudy rich. So even the hoi poloi are fashionistas—they just don’t know it. Now if that isn’t a proper rationale for 6'2", 104-lb models displaying eveningwear only three people in the world can either afford or fit into—what is?
But Andrea comes to her senses in the end. While I don’t want to give away the very, very ending, my meaningless and miserable ex-assistant did ask me to throw in a bit of trivia. The offices of The Daily Mirror are in fact the offices of The Sun, a New York paper with a decidedly conservative bent. He knows this from experience, having worked there as a freelance copy editor. (I know the word trivia is related to trivial, but even this tidbit strains the plasticity of language beyond what I can endure.)
So, a halfhearted recommendation. I think many would find the moral morass the young Andrea finds herself in a curious and amusing bit of business, as well as a source of discussion afterward. But don’t expect a confrontation with Evil. Just evil. Which, of course, as we Lutherans know, is bad enough.
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