Movies with Kevin: Appeal of 'Prada' Goes Beyond High Fashion © By Kevin Paquet, 2006

Arts / Aug. 24, 2006 12:00am EDT

Movies with Kevin: Appeal of 'Prada' Goes Beyond High Fashion © By Kevin Paquet, 2006

I didn’t plan on being able to appreciate "The Devil Wears Prada." Since it is a film about the highest, icy peaks of fashion and I am a movie critic whose sole concession to style was wearing, from the end of 2003 to the end of 2005, a hat that said "OTIS," I had believed that, at best, I would be amused by the antics of this class of people.

You see, I saw the trailers for this movie, and I believed that these people – the Movers and Shakers of High Fashion, with their coffee and cell phones and expensive cars and, above all, fancy clothes—had nothing to do whatsoever with me, a college student with his Tab cola and record player and fourth-hand Honda Accord and t-shirts.

But I was wrong.

"The Devil Wears Prada" is the story of magazine overlord Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep, last seen two reviews ago as a talking ant) and her new assistant, Andrea (Anne Hathaway). Miranda is the devil of the title— the nearly fascist editor of Runway, a magazine dedicated to celebrating fashion at the expense of all else. Andrea gets what she is told is a dream job by sheer chance, having simply fallen into Runway at the right time. She holds no regard for the concept of fashion, and no talent for it, either (we're told by the fashion doyens in the movie)..

Although working for the overbearing Miranda is terrible, and the best her coworkers Nigel and Emily can do is explain her mistakes (disdainfully), Andrea finds solace in her small circle of friends, including her slightly tattered boyfriend, an aspiring chef with a sense of humor. They make a toast "to jobs that pay the rent" and enjoy themselves.

Andrea understandably decides that she wants to escape the grinding feeling, and transforms herself into a beauty with the help of the fashion wise Nigel (who nevertheless appears in one scene in a plaid suit so bad a viewer behind me commented on it. The only other place I saw one like it was on The Lawrence Welk Show). Armed with clothes and styling services provided by the magazine’s departments, Andrea turns her career around and starts to climb the ladder of success. In a sense.

I found the second quarter of this movie a little grating—it follows Andrea as she is battered by Miranda, who wants her facts straight and her coffee now. But after that, the movie becomes an intriguing study of human nature.

Andrea slowly realizes that the entire industry is run by people who have effectively stomped their dreams flat enough to fit through the mail slot in the gates of Paradise. Always, there is only more work to be done, more plans to be abandoned, more coffee to be drunk—it’s not a career path, it’s a psychological run to failure.

Miranda regards her cavalcade of failed assistants in the same way General Electric might regard a series of light bulbs it tested for weeks on end at twice the recommended voltage. Records are kept—Miranda mercilessly compares Andrea to her predecessor— but a dead light bulb, no matter how well it worked when it worked, it still just a piece of garbage. It is this strange and powerful characterization of Miranda's world that drives the movie past any of the benchmarks I had set for it.

This film feels simultaneously fresh and timeless. I could easily see this film having been made, with only minor edits to weed out the technology advances, fifty years ago. It would star Katherine and Audrey Hepburn as Miranda and Andrea, respectively, with Cary Grant as the understanding Nigel and a young Peter Falk as Andrea’s scraggy boyfriend. This is a culture piece, timeless within its own boundaries.

Bonus points for Miranda’s trickle-down fashion speech, the hurricane and the KT Tunstall song at the beginning of the film. Kevin gives it four and a half stars out of five.

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