'The Devil Wears Prada' lacks impact
It’s not technically a chick flick, but I doubt men will really (and I mean really) get “The Devil Wears Prada.”
Thankfully, they aren’t generally aware of the true impact of high fashion in today’s label-conscious society, and most, I’d guess, can’t distinguish between designers Gucci and Pucci. But one element of the film that males and females can both identify with is having a boss from hell.
Anne Hathaway is Andrea Sachs, a young journalist who prepares herself for a one-year struggle at the nation’s top fashion magazine, hoping the assistant position will lead to greener pastures. But she quickly learns a year is too long to service the devil.
Meryl Streep is the beast, Miranda Priestly, a self-absorbed, soulless editor, who can’t be bothered with learning her employees’ names and assigns them impossible tasks that exceed the usual coffee-fetching and dry cleaning pick-ups.
Andrea must find her boss a flight home when all the airports have been shut down and retrieve and copy the latest unpublished Harry Potter manuscript for her spoiled twins' reading pleasure. Everything must be done without asking questions, and if it isn’t, Andy is very aware that she can be easily replaced by another doe-eyed wannabe.
Adding to the frightful fervor surrounding the evil Priestly is British actress Emily Blunt, Miranda’s first assistant/minion, Emily. I’m not sure why British people play evil well, but like the kid in “The Omen” and even Elizabeth Hurley in “Bedazzled,” Blunt’s demon-like portrayal of an employee who is literally a slave to fashion is the best in the film.
Andy begins the job as a poorly dressed employee with no real interest in fashion and its frivolities, but as her character works harder at pleasing Priestly, she slides further into hell and couture, transforming herself from an unconsciously mismatched innocent into a fashionista.
The transformation is one of the few deep questions the film asks. Are we changing ourselves or being changed? Are we in control or unconsciously being controlled by something else? And is that something else a good or bad influence?
Prior to her change, Andy snickers when Priestly and her team stress to select one of two seemingly identical belts for a fashion shoot. She’s reprimanded by Priestly and told that the cheap blue sweater she’s wearing was not her own fashion choice, but a choice made for her by the team of people in the room.
Priestly explains that fashion has a trickle-down effect. She and the magazine, who are at the top, decide what’s in style and thousands of little designers across the country replicate products, implementing her choices. If cerulean blue is in this season, it may very well be because one woman, Miranda Priestly, decided it. And if she decided that fat instead of thin was in tomorrow, would our world be different?
The film aptly conveys the power of the fashion industry. Miranda Priestly is, in some ways, the equivalent of the President. She incarnates the idea that when you rise to the top of any magazine, large company or political party, you have more than likely done so by selling your soul to the devil. Doing too many favors for too many people will put you in that position. That’s the second message. There’s a strategy to staying on top, and you must learn to be ruthless in order to survive.
In our culture, you must sometimes kill or be killed in the corporate world. You must, unfortunately sometimes, strategize to compete with those externally and internally and often bow and follow or risk termination.
As Andy becomes more closely associated with Streep, she better understands how deals are made at the top. Friends become conspirators and family is the sacrifice. Andy ultimately decides she won’t allow herself to be pulled any deeper into the devil’s lair. She quits, opting to save her own soul and remain moral.
A dark comedy like this deserved a darker ending. After treating her character harshly throughout the film, I didn’t buy that Priestly would bother to give Andy a good recommendation, nor did I believe she’d pause and smile briefly while thinking about Andy, her prey.
For those who may not know, the story is written by a former Vogue employee and supposedly based on her experience working for Anna Wintour, the magazine’s editor and chief.
Unlike Glamour and In Style, you can’t really use Vogue, the “Bible” of the fashion industry, to assemble your wardrobe for the next day. The magazine is many things. It’s about the designers and the art of the industry. It’s about elitism and the price women are willing to pay to outdo each other. It’s about fake authenticity.
It’s about politics and economics — big fashion influences, and it’s about perfection. It’s a world most men know nothing about, and they may be better for not becoming entangled in it.
The movie could have had a more meaningful impact if it had more deeply explored some of these elements, lending itself to a cultural critique of womanhood. If so, it would have been more worthy of Streep’s presence.