The bitch or be bitched-at world of fashion is one that rarely finds its way onto the silver screen. Although Hollywood has shown us that there’s more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking with Ben Stiller’s side-splitting Zoolander, the movie industry has tended to shy away from Paris fashion shows and summer collections. The Devil Wears Prada is a film that hopes to cause some sensation on Hollywood’s catwalk.
Loosely adapted from the bestselling book of the same name by director David Frankel, comedy-drama The Devil Wears Prada follows aspiring journalist Andrea Sachs as she is hired as an assistant to the editor of fictional fashion magazine Runway and thrown into the cutthroat world of the fashion industry. Gradually the job “a million girls would kill for” begins to take over her life, and Andrea must decide whether her new high pressure role is worth compromising her personal integrity for or whether she’d be happier with her man and a less demanding career. Pretty typical stuff.
It’s worth noting that, although the film is set in the headquarters of a magazine, The Devil Wears Prada is more a tale of one woman’s self-discovery than it is a film examining journalistic practices. Office politics are briefly touched upon and Runway’s resident fashionistas are presented as less fashion police and more fashion Gestapo. But the nitty-gritty of actually creating an issue of Runway is only very briefly glimpsed.
Anne Hathaway brings Andrea to life in fairly bog standard way. Sachs is cutesy and innocent enough when she first arrives at Runway, but as her character begins to find her own bitchy streak, and starts to transform into one of the magazine’s resident glamazons, Hathaway is still too earnest and polite as to be convincing as a cold hearted dragon lady. Andrea remains a Primark blouse in Chanel world.
Not to worry though, as The Devil Wears Prada scores high in the bitch stakes thanks to its two standout performances. Emily Blunt shines as Emily Charlton, Sachs’s bitchy British rival for the editor’s attentions. Sporting an outstanding auburn bob, Blunt is conniving, motor mouthed and downright frosty, spitting out venomous quips with relish. Certainly the film suffers when Blunt isn’t on screen.
Stealing show as the titular devil, though, is the remarkable Meryl Streep who plays Runway’s tyrannical editor Miranda Priestly. Cruella de Ville by way of Josef Stalin, Priestly is a character that could have potentially been turned into a bellowing, scenery chewing maniac. Luckily Streep is too tasteful an actress to traipse down that particular road. Instead, Streep is an icy, detached monster of an editor. Completely laconic and cool, Streep imbues Priestly with mannerisms that possess an almost sociopathic viciousness as she dispatches scathing putdowns with clinical precision. When the horn rimmed specs do fall, in one of the film’s most touching scenes, it’s through Streep’s skill that we realise there actually is a human being behind that permafrost exterior.
Though The Devil Wears Prada is clearly girl’s own stuff, it does have some male presence. Stanley Tucci pops up as Runway’s art director who acts as a type of affable mentor to Hathaway’s character.
The film’s script is another one of its strengths. Chock full of fashion talk and terrific witticisms, it’s a snappy, punchy, and ultimately funny screenplay. Indeed, it is due to the combination of the witty script and Meryl Streep that The Devil Wears Prada manages to escape crushing Hollywood mediocrity.
The film’s New York City backdrop fits perfectly, reflecting, as it does, the hustle and bustle of both the media and the fashion industry. Clever use of montage propels the film along nicely, ensuring a brisk pace. Montages aside, The Devil Wears Prada is shot in conventional and conservative style. It’s a pretty bland film visually.
When the film hits Paris in the third act, however, The Devil Wears Prada begins to drag its feet. Character arcs come to a predictable close as realisations are made and a romantic subplot fizzles out into a mushy conclusion – a shame given the film’s frantic first half. The soundtrack isn’t much to write home about either with upbeat tunes used during the upbeat scenes and typical soppy ballads used during the dramatic scenes.
The Devil Wears Prada certainly is not a bad film. Blessed with a cracking and anchored by two solid turns, it almost makes it off the peg and into this year’s must have collection. The film is unfortunately dragged down by formulaic plotting, unimaginative cinematography and a lame third act. What could have been a stunning Dolce and Gabbana piece remains a pretty summers dress from Topshop.