Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Maybe The Devil Wears Land's End
Susan and I went a week or so ago to The Devil Wears Prada. If I had any reservations about not having enough estrogen in my blood for this movie, they appear to have dissipated as soon as I saw Meryl Streep on the cast list. There is something in the effortlessness of her portrayals that sucks me right in. I don't know if it's the accent thing or what (I generally hate this little mechanism, as it's so rarely convincing; even Streep's Danish accent in Out of Africa, a fabulous movie which I've been watching again lately, seems to come and go. And she's the acknowledged master of accents). I don't know; maybe the accents are more something to help HER inhabit her characters. But however it happens, she does seem to accomplish the task. In any case she can always be counted on to be interesting.
And to me it is absolutely a feather in her cap that she comes across as utterly normal and unaffected in interviews. Her talents would seem to justify, if any would, her being an insufferable diva; but to hear her talk casually in an interview you would think she was just your kid's friend's mom--smart and animated and friendly, and completely down-to-earth. And I love that in interviews she gestures a lot with her hands and makes (very convincing) vocal sound effects to make her case, whatever she's talking about.
In this movie she plays the czar at the helm of some archetypal fashion magazine. The story revolves around a naive young woman who arrives from a temp agency to be the czar's secretary, and about her trials in the midst of a den of freaks and at the hands of this really reprehensible woman. Of course, the more subtly evil the part, the more for Streep to sink her teeth into, and she delivers the goods without ever, it seems, raising her voice above a purr. Her performance again makes it difficult not to pay rapt attention to her, and I've rarely found a character I so much loved to hate.
The young secretary is played by Anne Hathaway, who seems the right person for the job (I knew who she was, but had never seen her in anything). Her balancing act is to be someone who can believably make what they intend to be an ugly-duckling-to-swan transformation, and to be tough enough to absorb all the vitriol that comes her way from all quarters when she steps, as a non-fashion person, into this high fashion world. The movie would end quickly if she, like a normal human being, shouted "Fuck you!" after the second insult and fled the scene.
It was a fun and engaging story, if a bit thin on some of the details (this seems to be a thing with a certain vein of comedy, and romantic comedy especially: somehow the mold got set such that practical things aren't thought to get in the way of a good story). And maybe these weaknesses, as they seem to me, are simply transferred from the similarly-weak book (it was a best-seller, after all). Or maybe any issues I have are due to the vantage point of my plastic lawn chair placed distinctly outside the rapid flow of the mainstream. The fashion world is portrayed as something freaky and barely grounded, a POV I can absolutely sympathize with. But, exempli gratia, on two or three occasions our naive young secretary is subjected to harangues about why her own dismissal of the fashion world (she is a journalist by trade) is stupid and wrong. And these ringing defenses of haute couture ring flat and false--silly, even. But it would appear they're meant to be convincing. If this were a trial, the fashion world should be looking for better representation. The money and power behind the enterprise of running a top fashion magazine, and the untold millions of dollars that follow the magazine's pronouncements, attempt to show the industry in a glamorous light. Our czar goes everywhere in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes limousine, and is genuflected to, and waited upon by, everyone with whom she comes in contact. Maybe this is all according to plan, as the story line must play out; an irresistible world of high fashion would require a different plot flow--it would be a different story altogether. Still, it seems clumsily handled.
And again--this one is unapologetically my own quirk--they spend a lot of time selling as beautiful things that are just plain ugly. I think any woman when "properly dressed up" in this way is always less attractive to me than in jeans & a t-shirt. And no makeup. I have to assume that the scenes where the latest fashions are worn are meant to be stunning and jaw-dropping, but it just doesn't work for me. Even the scenes where Streep is looking battered and broken, caught off-guard and looking pale and all of her 57 years, look better to me than the fake-skinned, arbitrarily-clad goddess she is supposed to be for most of the show.
In the end, our girl regains her footing just before being sucked into the soulless vortex, walking away from this grotesque world but hanging onto the valuable lessons she picked up along the way (this is a Hollywood movie, after all). So she goes back to her fashionably-sinful ways, though now with a dash of élan and put-togetherness. Whatever.