Director: David Frankel
Cast: Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Stanley Tucci, Emily Blunt, Simon Baker
Plot: Andrea (Hathaway) wants to be a journalist, meaning she has to intern in a major fashion magazine’s office, working for the vile Miranda Priestly (Streep).
The fashion industry has been a corner of the world not properly explored by film. Surely, there are little thrills to be wormed out of high heels and Calvin Klein dresses. However, as Frankel’s now iconic Devil Wears Prada goes on to prove, there is actually more than a little tension in the premise. Ruthless ambition, a burning desire to be the best and an industry that swallows the most innocent soul up without them realising. Devil Wears Prada doesn’t turn a dull subject exciting; it shines a beacon on what could be a riveting new sub-genre in film.
It opens with Anne Hathaway, one of dozens of young girls applying for a receptionist job in Runway magazine. Hathaway is well cast, as the innocent girl, doe-eyed, with the air of a rabbit caught in headlights. If anything, she is a little too well-cast, the kind of role that Hathaway has done a million times before. Naïve girl with a burning ferocity that comes out when she is pressed? Yep, this is Hathaway’s go-to character. But at the very least, we are anchored with a safe pair of hands as this clueless wannabe journalist walks into the lion’s den. She gets the job through fluke luck. She sees the post as a stepping stone to bigger things, unaware that the girls she is up against would murder for the seemingly miniscule job. Her co-workers instantly dislike her, as she glibly ridicules their way of life. Frankel cleverly balances her attitude here. On one hand, she is merely expressing what the audience is thinking. This is a world of shallow heartlessness, where proud women turn to raving lunatics in the rush to buy their employer a coffee. However, there is also a sense of “how do you have the right to judge us?” Stanley Tucci calls her out on her own brand of shallowness. Yes, perhaps there is a folly to the lives these wannabe fashionistas lead, but it is their world and their choice. This is not only a solid piece of direction by Frankel but a brave one as well; if the script was any weaker, the throwaway gags about female characters starving themselves to get to size zero before a Paris trip would be severely tasteless. As it stands, we are given a wonderful snapshot into the world. As Hathaway’s Andrea learns to adopt the fashion lifestyle, just to get her the job on the other side of the tunnel, she finds herself on a slippery slope. The fashion industry is an unstoppable beast and before long, it begins to corrupt Hathaway. Her descent into shallowness only steepens when Hathaway discovers she has a talent for the industry – and even begins to enjoy the rush of it. The movie questions whether its bad characters are nasty pieces of work or it is the fashion business which corrupts their souls. As a result, it is impossible to dislike any character too strongly, even when they are at their most wicked. The Devil symbolism is not merely a trick to conjure up a sense of importance. Every character is constantly confronted with the pressures and temptations of ‘evil’ weighing down on their identity.
The real beauty of Devil Wears Prada is the silence of it all. There are never any big, grandiose moments. There is a beautiful, understated flow to everything on display here. Take Meryl Streep’s performance as the titular Devil. Miranda Priestly must be a tempting character to take into cliché. A villainess in the title role that is essentially Cruella DeVille brought into the real world. One of the writers must have toyed with the idea of having an actress who would chew scenery and devour the screen with over-the-top mannerisms. It has worked before. But Streep brings a whole new energy to the character. Her voice never raises above a whisper and if you don’t focus on the veiled emotion, you might think that Streep is coasting through the show. She delivers brutal insulting monologues without a trace of anger. Even at the pinnacle of the performance, the poker face does not drop. But that is the beauty of it all; this impenetrable character who struggles on, despite the weight of her character arc on her shoulders. Anyone who accuses Streep of coasting, clearly doesn’t understand the essence of acting. But it’s more than the performances that are wonderfully understated. Massive story beats are delivered softly as well. None of the characters go through sudden changes of heart, but Frankel gives them small scenes that suggest there is more depth and kindness that previously suggested. One character’s life is torn apart and he barely lets out a gasp. But in the lack of spectacle, the whole film becomes a spectacle. A quietly moving piece that resonates with the audience.
Final Verdict: The Devil Wears Prada is the kind of quiet success that has maintained a cult following by simply being good at what it does.