September 4, 2006 -- It is hard to imagine anything more trivial than the fashion industry, so it is difficult to muster much more than comedy from this slight subject. However, this film tries to push beyond comedy into drama, and that is where it hits a lot of familiar false notes. The fashion industry's whole purpose is to convince people that certain brands of clothes are worth hundreds of times more than the cloth they are made of. The fact that people are convinced of this is no great surprise. The diamond industry has similarly convinced people that diamond-studded jewelry is worth a lot more than it really is, and George Bush got elected twice. We're not as smart as we think we are.
This movie starts out with an interesting premise. A young journalist, Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway of “Brokeback Mountain”) gets a job at a big fashion magazine on a fluke, a job a million other girls would kill for, she is told repeatedly. Yet she has no more interest in fashion, or regard for it, than I have. The non-fashion woman in fashion surroundings works as a comedy premise because it is an interesting clash of sensibilities. However, this premise is dropped after a time and Andy decides she must become serious about fashion in order to get some respect in the office. The problem with getting serious, of course, is that it stops being funny.
In short order Andy becomes a serious fashion plate and becomes ultra-efficient at her job at the same time. There is utterly no explanation of how those two things are in any way related. Did Andy become smarter and more efficient because of her new wardrobe? How she gets the clothes is suspicious, too. She doesn't buy them, she borrows them from some big closet full of clothes at the magazine. Her wardrobe is selected by the obligatory gay character, Nigel Stanley Tucci of “Lucky Number Slevin”) who is a top fashion designer and critic. The main character in the movie is the devil referred to in the title, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep of “The Manchurian Candidate”), the editor of the magazine. Miranda is a ridiculously demanding and shrewish woman. In one funny scene she demands that Andy obtain several copies of an unpublished Harry Potter manuscript in less than eight hours time. Impossible, of course, even for an influential person in the American publishing industry, and dangerously illegal.
As the movie goes on it becomes more serious. More facets of Miranda are revealed and she becomes more human. We begin to realize the price she has paid for her power and fame. Andy starts down the same destructive path that Miranda is on. She must make a decision whether or not to continue down this path and lose her old friends, chief of which is her boyfriend, Nate (Adrian Grenier of “Anything Else”). She is tempted to take up with a handsome, smooth-talking rich friend instead, Christian Thompson (Simon Baker of “Land of the Dead”). The movie assumes that a woman cannot attain success and have a family at the same time. It is pretty obvious where this is going and how it is going to get there. It turns out to be a lot less funny and a lot more predictable, clichéd and melodramatic than I thought it was going to be at first, despite some very good performances by the principle cast. This film rates a C+.
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