Monday, July 03, 2006

Looks kill in "Prada"; Kryptonite tries in "Superman"


directed by David Frankel
starring Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Stanley Tucci, Emily Blunt, Adrian Grenier, Simon Baker

Hats off, ladies and gentlemen: you are in the presence of the most feared and revered woman to grace the profession she has come to dominate. Oh, I'm not talking about Miranda Priestly, the thinly veiled stand-in for Vogue editor Anna Wintour in Lauren Weisberger's bestselling screed The Devil Wears Prada. I'm actually referring to Meryl Streep.

All right, so "feared" may not be exactly the best word to describe Streep, though Anthony Lane did once say that Meryl Streep's perfectionism scared him. "Formidable" is a better word, and perhaps more suggestive of why the role of the Devil fits her to a T. That aristocratic, faintly imperious profile looks here like it was carved from glass, or rather from ice – the same ice as her impeccably coiffed hair. But that's because Streep imbues the character's entire presence with just the right combination of heavy-lidded hauteur and underlying intensity that can turn vicious at a moment's notice.

Notwithstanding Streep's diamantine brilliance, "The Devil Wears Prada" is really the story of the rise, fall, and redemption of Anne Hathaway's character, Andrea Sachs. Andrea, called Andy by everyone except, of course, Miranda Priestly, begins as a fashion innocent, newly graduated from journalism school and newly arrived in New York with plenty of ambition but no money or job prospects. Somehow she stumbles into the position of assistant to the aptly named Priestly, high priestess of haute couture and editor of the fictional fashion magazine Runway. Andy becomes, to put it delicately, Miranda's bitch, dispatched on pain of extreme terror to fulfill her every need, from the mundane (such as delivering coffee) to the impossible (such as finding her a flight home from Florida in the middle of a hurricane, or the unpublished manuscript of the next Harry Potter).

Predictably, after a rough start and abundant abuse not just from Miranda but from the rest of the Runway staff, Andy finds her footing and begins to adapt, with a little help in the wardrobe department from Miranda's second-in-command, Nigel (an excellent Stanley Tucci). Equally predictably, as she thrives and wins Miranda's double-edged approval, she allows herself to become increasingly swept up and seduced by the world of high fashion and glamour—the world she once observed with the bafflement reserved for an alien society—and the world-view of the ice queen perched at its summit. Will she succumb to its glittering allure, or will she return to the more down-to-earth values embodied by her Midwestern background (a change from the novel), her friends and her patient-but-only-to-a-point boyfriend Nate (Adrian Grenier)?

Yes, that’s a rhetorical question. Still, the inevitability of the movie’s resolution doesn’t diminish the pleasures to be had along the way. "Prada" is an enjoyable little sweet tart of a chick flick, without being particularly deep or subtle—apart from Streep's wonderfully nuanced performance, which shows glimpses of something resembling humanity only to snatch it back and show an even colder capacity for calculation than Miranda's harshest critics could imagine. Insofar as it focuses on Andy, the movie of course tries to have it both ways, operating simultaneously as an ugly duckling/Pygmalion fantasy and a morality tale about retaining one's integrity in the face of material temptations. But no one goes to see "The Devil Wears Prada" without those same mixed motives: we want to see Andy get transformed by fabulous clothes and shoes, attend the most exclusive fashion shows in New York and Paris, and get laid (excuse me, wooed) by the charming writer (Simon Baker) who seems to have his foot in both the fashion world and the world of "real" journalism to which Andy aspires. At the same time we want to see her realize, in due course, what is truly important to her and return to it. We get it all—to have our cake and eat it, too—and that's the fun of this movie.

Moreover, any inherent tension between these two story arcs is effectively countered by the casting of Hathaway as the film's moral center. Her acting isn't especially remarkable, but she's done the ugly duckling thing before and has the word "ingénue" practically stamped on her forehead; although her Andy loses her initial, almost painful awkwardness as she learns to dress the part, that inquisitive-deer look never really leaves those huge, bright dark eyes. This might have been a problem in another movie, and can look a little untutored next to the far defter and finer-tuned performances of veterans like Streep and Tucci, but it's in tune with Andy's persistent innocence and belief in such touching things as compassion, loyalty, and trust. Leave it to Streep to yank the rug out from under such outmoded concepts. It's the devil's prerogative.


Also saw:


directed by Bryan Singer
starring Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, Parker Posey, James Marsden, Frank Langella, others


I haven't decided yet whether to write a full review. There's been a great backroom discussion of the movie among my fellow Cinemarati members, which is perhaps more interesting than anything I could offer. The discussion is now viewable at where else but Cinemarati, of course.


Post a Comment

<< Home