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Meryl Streep makes the Devil look good
Merril Diniz | September 15, 2006 14:20 IST
In The Devil Meets Prada, the brilliant Meryl Streep metamorphoses into the Cruella DeVille of fashion -- ruthless, demanding, frosty Miranda Priestly, prominent editor of high-fashion magazine Runway in New York.
Priestly is literally the high priestess of fashion and renowned among the fraternity for many reasons. She hobnobs with fashion royalty like Oscar De La Renta and Dolce & Gabbana. She has a keen eye for spotting raw talent and has put many a relatively unknown designer (top-notch designer Karl Lagerfeld's name is dropped every now and then) on the map. She has a minute eye for detail and spends eons mulling over what will go into the magazine spreads, shooting down umpteen ideas and ripping apart concepts presented by her team of editors and stylists, leaving them both exasperated and terrified.
She's the boss from hell and refers to all her personal assistants as 'Emily' because she simply can't be bothered to remember their real names. She has a reputation for changing them like underwear, mostly because her eccentricity drives them to quit. If they can manage to stomach her meanness for a about a year or two, at the end of their tenure, she uses her clout in the media to recommend them to any publication of their choice. The 'big break' is dangled like a carrot at the interview desk when unsuspecting assistants are being recruited for the job.
The assistant's job is to be at her beck and call 24/7 and do just about anything and everything, right from transporting her laundry to answering phone calls to accompanying Miranda to the fashion week in Paris to hanging up her coats and bag, because Miranda simply flings them at the assistant's desk en route to her office.
Then arrives Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathway), who has just graduated and rejected an offer to study at Stanford Law School to pursue a career in journalism. She applies to various publications, newspapers and magazines. But Runway is the only magazine that gets back to her -- for the post of Miranda's assistant.
Unlike all the other girls 'who would kill for this job', Andrea has no interest in fashion whatsoever and has never heard of Miranda or Runway, until a few seconds before her interview. She is the antithesis of all the other assistants who are dying to wear designer clothes, look reed-thin and manage to look as if they have just stepped out of a magazine cover.
She thinks fashion is frivolous, but still bags the job. She continues to eat like a sensible person (unlike her colleagues who starve themselves to anorexic distraction) and dresses like a frump, withstanding Miranda's devious stares. She's never heard of most designers and needs to confirm the spelling of Gabbana (of Dolce & Gabbana) when the designer phones in. However, she puts up with all of Miranda's demands so that at the end of one year she can get to write in any publication of her choice.
But Miranda isn't just demanding. She's eccentric. A peaceful dinner with dad is disrupted by Miranda's badgering phonecalls. Andrea must arrange a flight for her, come rain, hail or storm, so she can attend a function at her twins' school the next morning. And it's a big storm, due to which all flights are cancelled. Nevertheless, Andrea goes berserk calling everyone she knows -- celebrities with private jets, et al. Miranda is disappointed and looks almost forlorn. In her own words, she hired Andrea because she was 'smart and fat' because the assistant stereotype (thin, chic and crazy about fashion) just wasn't delivering the goods.
Andrea seeks refuge in Runway stylist Nigel (Stanley Tucci). Nigel (and Chanel, Armani and Prada) come to the rescue. Nigel offers some hard knock advice and she finally decides to pull up her socks (six-inch stilettos, actually) on the job. She gets a designer makeover, thus going from geek to goddess. And from size six to size four. (By the way, during this scene, we noticed a pin-up of Indian model Svetlana Casper on a wall, in Nigel's workspace.)
Will Miranda be impressed by the new Andrea? Or is she totally oblivious to all the Emilys who come her way? Will Andrea become 'one of them' � a Runway stereotype � thin, chic, mean and shallow?
The film has some unexpected twists and turns and some genuinely funny, entertaining moments. Like when Andrea and her assistant colleague, who's name actually happens to be Emily onscreen and offscreen (Emily Blunt), arrive for a Runway party, the model-esque Emily, who usually views Andrea as frumpy and fat, is impressed by how svelte she looks in a sweeping black gown. Andrea, in return, is shocked to see how deathly-thin Emily has become.
'Really?' says Emily as if she has just received a compliment. 'I'm on this new diet. I eat nothing and when I feel like I'm about to faint, I eat a cracker,' she nonchalantly informs Andrea.
Stanley Tucci (Shall We Dance, The Terminal) is very likeable as fashion stylist Nigel. Emily Blunt is entertaining as the bitchy, silly, shallow and giddy-headed assistant. Hathway switches back from convincing peroxide-blonde-with-southern-twang (Brokeback Mountain) to girly, Princess Diary.
Supermodel Giselle Bundchen makes a guest appearance in the film. Incidentally, the film is based on a book by the same name, which was inspired by author Lauren Weisberger's own experience with a fashion editor at Vogue magazine. The storyline in the film is conveniently changed to give it a more satiating climax. But it is sleeker and wittier than the book. Besides, it has Meryl Streep.
Streep does full justice to her role, without once slipping into slapstick mode. She lends a lot of class to her character and manages to bring out the multiple layers that make up a ruthless, career woman. She delivers her lines with a snooty coolness and in many scenes speaks with her eyes to convey a range of emotions like admiration, respect, disgust and shock. Streep is undoubtedly the runway showstopper.
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