Lauren Weisberger’s chick-lit hit The Devil Wears Prada read like one long extended commercial — Givenchy bags, Starbucks lattes, Mercedes convertibles — there was nary a page in the book that didn’t have a brand name splashed across it. Furthermore, it featured what seems to be the quintessential chick-lit “heroine” — a whiny, self-obsessed spoiled white girl who’s too wimpy to stick up for herself, and too irritatingly clueless to sympathize with.
For the cinematic adaptation of Prada we’re still subjected to an endless parade of designer namedrops, but at least the main character of Andy (Anne Hathaway) has gone and got herself a spine. Well, at least a semblance of a spine.
Rosy-cheeked, naive young Andy has just graduated college and is desperately trying to become a journalist in New York City. When she can’t get her penny loafer-clad foot through any doors, the hopelessly unstylish Andy finds herself interviewing for a major fashion magazine, as assistant to the most powerful, cold-blooded and vicious woman in the city, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep). She lands the job, and immediately becomes a fish out of bottled water; in addition to being continually humiliated and degraded by Miranda, she’s mercilessly taunted by her anorexic, backstabbing co-workers. But if she sticks it out for a year, maybe just maybe, she’ll get that position at The New Yorker she’s always dreamed of (huh?).
So what’s a smart, headstrong young girl to do? Quit and maintain her dignity? No, silly, get a fabulous head-to-toe couture makeover! With the assistance of her bitchy-but-affectionate co-worker Nigel (Stanley Tucci), she transforms herself into one of the very fashion-plates she once despised; and as she’s tangled deeper into Miranda’s web of constant demands, she finds less and less time for her no-frills, grungy boyfriend (Entourage’s Adrian Grenier) and finds herself fighting off the temptations of suavely charming writer Christian (Simon Baker, whose bushy sage eyebrows look like they might help him take flight and flutter off in search of a better role).
The film is brimming with mixed messages; Andy loathes the superficiality of her co-workers, and swears she won’t let Miranda get to her — but later proudly points out that her “gigantic” Size 6 ass is now a Size 4, as if it’s the greatest accomplishment she’s made to date. She despises her boss, but then jumps to her defense later, pointing out that if the ruthless Miranda were a man, people would commend her for how good she is at her job.
In the novel, Miranda was a flat-out, stone-cold bitch from hell, but here screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna has tried to create a sympathetic side to the character. As a result, like Andy, we’re not sure if we hate Miranda, feel sorry for her, desperately want her praise or all of the above.
Streep, however, takes the awkward rewriting of the character in stride; always a joy to see on screen, she dives into the role with glee, underplaying it with her wickedly subtle facial expressions and dismissive gestures. In one scene, she completely obliterates a young designer’s entire new line with the simple pursing of her lips — it’s hard to imagine any other actress today pulling off the same scene even half as effectively.
Hathaway, with her doe eyes and pillow lips, seems to have thankfully grown out of her cloyingly irritating Julie Andrews phase (she actually — gasp — has sex in this movie!), and manages to bring a little spunk to her hopelessly whiny character. But there are still times when you literally want to throttle her with her Gucci scarf.Prada would have been more wicked fun if it had truly skewered the superficiality of the fashion world — but instead of a pronged pitchfork through a bony supermodel, we get, at best, a gentle prodding with a bottle of Evian. For a chick flick, it’s certainly fluffy and enjoyable enough — about as mindlessly entertaining as the latest issue of Cosmo.
Sarah Klein is Metro Times culture editor. Send comments to [email protected].