The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Written by Aline Brosh McKenna
Directed by David Frankel
There is a certain kind of movie made in the first decade of the 21st century that faded away. I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but it is often derived from is referred to as “chick lit,” novels published for the demographic of women 18-40-ish. I believe everyone should read what they like, and there isn’t necessarily a line between “high art” and “low art,” you like what you like. I simply just don’t like this genre of literature or type of film. It doesn’t have the aesthetic qualities and thematic elements that appeal to me, but if you do enjoy these things, all the best to you. The Devil Wears Prada is one of these things.
Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) is a newly graduated aspiring journalist looking for any work she can in the publishing industry. She manages to land a job as the second assistant to the notorious Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), the editor-in-chief of Runaway, a prestigious fashion magazine. Andy knows nothing about the fashion industry and simply sees these as a stepping stone to writing for something like The New Yorker. It quickly becomes apparent that working for Miranda is going to wreak havoc on her personal life as her boss enjoys making the people around her jumpy and anxious.
The comedy in this movie is not my particular cup of tea. It’s a little broad but thankfully not slapsticky. There was a trend at this time to have romantic comedies where one of the significant character traits and points of intended audience laughter was for the female protagonist to fall down. This movie keeps itself elevated above that and focuses more on interpersonal relationships, which is the smart thing to do. The depth of those relationships is pretty shallow, and we can sort of prognosticate where Andy’s relationship with her boyfriend is going and what will eventually happen between her and Miranda. This kind of movie made its bank on the fact it wasn’t going to rock the boat and give the audience exactly what it paid for. In many ways, this genre of film shares a lot of DNA with the current superhero trend.
The story of Devil Wears Prada feels more like Young Adult lit then something intended for adults. The same way Saved By The Bell and Disney Channel shows are about high school-aged kids but intended for elementary school audiences. The narrative lacks most of the nuance you would expect for a story aimed at mature adults who understand the moral ambiguity of life. I will give it credit for the way it handles the love triangle subplot, that element plays out more satisfyingly than most of the rest of the movie. And the script does try to undercut some cliches by pulling back more caricaturish people from being entirely villainous. By the end of the film, Andy doesn’t hold grudges against anyone that might have been mean to her, she gets that it’s life and moves on.
Streep is a lot of fun as Miranda, and she manages to take a character who could so easily slip into cliched villainy and still find layers to explore. Miranda doesn’t explode on people who upset her, she simmers and scalds them. There is a wonderful speech Miranda delivers to Andy that upends the dynamic between the two of them. It was a moment cut initially, but Streep saw it as the skeleton to build something bigger and added a lot to the dialogue. Miranda puts Andy in her place after the young woman snarkily rolls her eyes at fashion. It’s that moment in a script where the real story begins, and we flip where we expected the story to go. Stepping back from the movie as a whole, it did some unexpected things, but incredibly flat cinematography and stock characters (see the protagonist’s best friends) didn’t do much to help. It’s still a very good Streep performance.