August 2006

Liz Miller

hollywood madam

The Devil Wears Prada

My copy of The Devil Wears Prada was passed onto me by a friend after she'd finished, and the pages are now curled and warped, because I dropped it in the bathtub while I was reading it. Not on purpose. No. Of course not. It's not a bad book, except of course for the part where it's poorly written and its protagonist is kind of hateful. It really just... slipped out of my hands.

The frothy tale of a young woman cast into what she considers a circle of hell (and the real world considers the offices of a fashion magazine) hangs on the notion that the magazine's editor-in-chief is a fire-breathing ball of hate, a most loathsome personality. Based on Lauren Weisberger's experiences working for Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, it's two hundred and fifty pages of therapy and catharsis -- for Lauren, at least. What the casual reader gets is a quick little brain vacation to a land where pretty clothes rule supreme, everyone is beautiful, and the bad guy has little horns drawn on her head.

Is it any surprise that it was scooped up for adaptation?

Had the beginning of July been any cooler, I might not have seen Prada, but the sun shined down and I fled to a matinee. My reasoning was that Meryl Streep has never done a bad movie (well, except for Cookie's Fortune... and Music of the Heart... and One True Thing...), fashion is nice to look at, and I respect Vincent Chase's choices as an actor (though I think Aquaman can do better than playing the love interest of the The Princess Diaries girl). Besides, Stanley Tucci! Everyone loves Stanley Tucci!

Especially when Stanley Tucci's character, using the words of the script by Aline Brosh McKenna, single-handledly fixed almost everything I hated about the book.

See, beyond the limitations of its genre, my major problem with The Devil Wears Prada is that the main character mopes and gripes and groans her way through the entire book, railing like Malcolm X against the unfair oppression she bears as a result of taking a prestigious job in an industry she considers beneath her. Sure, the woman she's working for is weird, anal, demanding and not a very good human being. But that's certainly not a rare thing in the world, and it's frustrating as all hell to read a book about a girl who can neither put up or shut up. Andrea's bewilderment over Miranda's behavior grows weary by page 50, and when Andrea creates yet another opportunity to prove her superiority to this foul industry in which she works... Perhaps the reason the book fell into the tub was because it bounced off the bathroom wall first.

However, in the movie -- god bless you, movie! -- Anne Hathaway pulls this I-went-to-Northwestern-and-I-care-about-the-third-world-and-what-the-fuck-do-you-mean-get-coffee crap for a little while. Then, at the end of the first act, she goes to Stanley Tucci's character, who's been mentoring her off and on, and complains about not being able to do this crap job and boy, she must be a moron if she can't even do this, right?

Stanley Tucci then calls her on her shit.

Well, what he does is soliloquize a bit about how fashion is the new modern art, and tell her that if she's not interested in it, then she should quit. Because there's no point in sticking around if she doesn't care, and the fact she doesn't care is what's keeping her from succeeding, and it's unfair and insulting to all the people who DO want to work in fashion for her to hold that job. (It's so great.)

Stanley Tucci's fashion-is-important monologue confuses the overall message of the movie and comes a bit out of left field. But he could have quoted Mein Kampf and I'd have forgiven him, because he totally calls her on her shit, and once he does the movie is actually watchable. Stanley Tucci opens his mouth. The angels sing.

Because once freed from self-pity, Andrea becomes a half-decent protagonist, determined to succeed because she's chosen to be there. And her commitment to success gives the film a new focus, shifting to a Wall Street-esque morality tale about greed, ruthlessness and betrayal (albeit with cuter shoes). I can't remember the last time I saw a movie about a young woman where her career, not her love life, was the focus. It's kind of awesome in that respect, and it's a place the book is never really able to go, because Lauren Weisberger can't hear how she sounds over the noise of her own whining.

Perspective is a funny thing. Sometimes you get it through a carefully-worded conversation over sushi, or an unguarded glance in the mirror. And, sometimes, you get it when your roman a clef novel is adapted into a movie starring Meryl Streep.

Either way, it's a beautiful argument in favor of adaptations. Sure, a novel can be such a beautiful expression of the individual. But sometimes that individual needs a punch in the face.