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Zettel Film Reviews » The Devil Wears Prada – planet woman, galaxy female

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The Devil Wears Prada – planet woman, galaxy female

an 'elegance' of fashionisitas

an 'elegance' of fashionisitas

The Devil Wears Prada – David Frankel

Guys beware: Devil inhabits planet Woman in galaxy Female. Take a judicious excess of your chosen substance of abuse, hitch a ride on the space shuttle to Mars and you will still not feel yourself in a more alien, strange, bewildering place. Even independent feminist women who hate this stuff with a justifiable passion, at least recognise the terrain in ways genetically inaccessible to X/Y chromosomes. Fashion is a meta-industry – it is the marketing of the marketing of an idea of an empty wish. The leaders of this weird tribe are as strange as their customs. The men are impossibly handsome, of what we might call broad-spectrum sexuality, and addicted to black clothes and deep facial tans towards the Des O’Connor end of orange. Among the female priesthood are two alien creatures (Trinny and Susannah) who apart from being to this mere male, the worst dressed women on TV, (see, bitchiness is contagious) are leading gurus advising with stupefying condescension delightfully normal women on how to emulate the dynamic duo’s own perfect self-obsession. And satisfying the ultimate criterion of contemporary social value – making pots of money in the process. Good for the Economy.

This said, I rather enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada. Especially its own unrecognised pretentiousness. It is, inevitably, stylish, frequently witty, and in the spirit of its subject, deliciously proud of its refined bitchiness. Meryl Streep has a ball applying all her considerable technique to making the appalling Miranda ‘Priestley’ (this may be among the longest, extended metaphors in movies) legendary head of the ‘Runway’ fashion bible, almost credible and beyond empathy. (But wait, the worm of ‘niceness’ unfortunately, begins to turn this exclusively plastic world bio-degradable very early on).

Tell me about the film dammit! OK, sorry – the plot is thinner than a mega-model’s crispbread: aspiring journalist Andrea – call-me-Andy (Anne Hathaway) – charmingly and diffidently at the foothills of mount Pulitzer, decides that a job as Personal Assistant to notorious dragon-lady Miranda will give her a way in to a prestigious writing career. Not of course that this role will challenge and develop her ability to write in any way but because the super-bitch to whom she is to be second gopher, knows all the editors and ‘important’ people in magazine publishing. It ain’t what ya know…….

Much of the arcane humour centres around mathematically abstruse use of numbers to do with the size of women’s clothes, by definition incomprehensible to most men who size dresses by two gingerly cupped hands, a distracted look in their eyes and an almost poignant wistfulness. It appears ‘0’ is the golden mean, Platonic in its unattainability; 2 and 3 are just fantastic; and Andy as a morally repugnant, merely sub-anorexic 4, is the “fat girl” Miranda deigns to appoint to grovel before her whims. Naturally Andy proves to be breathtakingly efficient at anticipating and satisfying Miranda’s devotedly volatile quantum demands: you can get what she wants but not in time for her to still want it; or when you get it to her in time, it is no longer what she wants. Miranda Priestley, unlike God, does play dice.

Andy, predictably beats all the feather-brained flutterers around Miranda, hands and dress-size, down. Supreme competence is a necessary but seriously insufficient requirement to succeed in the fashion business so the critical ingredient – a better wardrobe – is chosen for her with forensically chic taste by Stanley Tucci’s precisely drawn stereotypically gay Art Editor Nigel. Nigel befriends Andy as readily as if she were Judy Garland’s grand-daughter. (stereotypical is as stereotypical does). Meanwhile back on planet earth, – well, Hollywood Earth – Andy is naturally becoming alienated from her ‘real’ friends and live-in boyfriend Nate . Nate must be real as his greatest aspiration is to be a sous-chef at a big hotel and make Andy posh cheese toasties in the early hours as gastronomic foreplay. Nate is so nice, so boyishly charming, so liquid-eyed lovable, so down-to-Hollywood-Earth you just want to eat him up. When I say….I don’t mean….oh sod it, you know what I mean. You don’t have to like hats to know a good one when you see one.

Pacy editing, some great put-down one-liners and wickedly celebratory vindictiveness drive this all along nicely until the inexorable logic of Hollywood narratives kicks in and the BMD (big moral dilemma) looms to spoil the fun. Miranda manipulates Andy into shafting her sister slave Emily (nicely played by Emily Blunt) by replacing her on the ego-shmoozing, freebie-littered, mega-suck-up trip to the Paris fashion show. Once there she has a guilt-tinged overnight bed-stop with Christian (I kid you not) again impossibly handsome, but with a better tan, expensively tousled locks and reputed but not demonstrated, writing skills. He tells her of an imminent Runway putsch which Andy’s scruples lead her to tip Miranda off about and who by way of thanks draws Andy into a mega-shafting of camply loveable Nigel. Mere collateral damage in Miranda’s holy war of empire. Priestley infallibility.

If you have ever seen a Hollywood movie you will know how this ends (pretty much from about 20 minutes in). Devil shares with soft-core porn and many violent movies, the quality of celebrating in form what it decries in narrative content. The shiny, sharp, diamond hard, starkly lit lines of the movie’s form are dimmed and mushed up in a tiresomely sentimental ending. In the best line of the movie, the triumphantly victorious Miranda welcomes Andy as a ruthless Queen-bee-in-waiting. Andy resists with “maybe I don’t want to be like you”, to which Miranda replies “don’t be foolish dear, everyone wants to be us.” In a world where celebrity is the pre-eminent aspiration of many and fascination of most – she may just be right.

Devil is like a $1,500 handbag. It alludes to arcane mysteries beyond the ken of man. Not just the incomprehensible idea that anyone of sound mind could pay such a price for a piece of stitched cloth to keep things in, but the cosmic riddle that having done so, its proud owner can never find anything she wants in its dark and unfathomable interior. OK ladies, hit back with talk of football if you must. But remember – I haven’t even started on the insanity of women and shoes.

(October 2006)

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