No man is a hero to his valet. So the saying goes, or used to go, since few men these days actually have valets. But a great many people, men and women alike, heroic at least in their own estimation, have assistants, who scurry after coffee and dry cleaning, endure bursts of foul temper, bask in tiny glimmers of generosity and dream, for long hours at low wages, of revenge. For the legions who have suffered the caprice and cruelty of a tyrannical boss, The Devil Wears Prada, Lauren Weisberger's best-selling roman a clef about a bright young woman's brief period of servitude at a fashion magazine, provides the satisfaction of vicarious payback. Its portrait of Miranda Priestly, the imperious editor of a glossy rag called Runway, is a collage of unforgiven slights and unforgotten grudges, glued to the page with pure, righteous venom.
Weisberger's moral was simple, and hard to dispute: Nobody, however glamorous, successful or celebrated, has the right to treat another person the way Priestly treats her assistants, in particular the narrator, an eager Ivy Leaguer named Andy (short for Andrea) Sachs. But now that The Devil Wears Prada is a movie, starring Anne Hathaway as Andy, the lesson is not quite so unambiguous.
I will leave the business of point-by-point comparison to scholars, who will duly note that the screen-writer, Aline Brosh McKenna, and the director, David Frankel, have reimagined a few characters, discarded some plot developments and implanted others, and switched Andy's alma mater from Brown to Northwestern. When these specialists convene a learned panel to discuss their findings, a vigorous debate is likely to emerge. Does the movie, especially in the way it imagines Miranda, betray the novel or correct it?
The Devil Wears Prada
Directed by: David Frankel
Starring: Meryl Streep (Miranda Priestly), Anne Hathaway (Andy Sachs), Stanley Tucci (Nigel), Emily Blunt (Emily), Simon Baker (Christian Thompson), Adrian Grenier (Nate)
Running time: 106 minutes
Taiwan Release: Today
The literary Priestly is a monster. Weisberger, restricting herself to Andy's point of view and no doubt giving voice to her own loathing of the real-life editor on whom Priestly is modeled, resisted the temptation to make her villain a complex (or even a terribly interesting) character. But the screen Priestly is played by Meryl Streep, an actress who carries nuance in her every pore, and who endows even her lighthearted comic roles with a rich implication of inner life. With her silver hair and pale skin, her whispery diction as perfect as her posture, Streep's Miranda inspires both terror and a measure of awe. No longer simply the incarnation of evil, she is now a vision of aristocratic, purposeful and surprisingly human grace.
And the movie, while noting that she can be sadistic, inconsiderate and manipulative, is unmistakably on Priestly's side. How, really, could it be otherwise? In Holly-wood, for one thing, an abused assistant is, like a Toyota Prius, an indispensable accessory — an entitlement, really — for anyone who even wants to seem powerful.
And while the film makes some gestures of sympathy toward the underlings, it does not stray too far into class-conscious hypocrisy. Quite the contrary. It is a movie unapologetically, or maybe semi-apologetically, fascinated with power. The worlds of high fashion and slick journalism, a convenient backdrop for Weisberger's Gothic fable of captive innocence, are here held up for knowing, fetishistic delectation.
In this version the vicarious thrill is not payback but rather conspicuous consumption: all those lovingly photographed outfits and accessories, those warehouses' worth of Chanel and Jimmy Choo, those skinny women decked out (by the tirelessly inventive Patricia Field) in expensive finery. The Devil Wears Prada does exactly what the real-life counterparts of Runway magazine do every month, which is to deliver the most sumptuous goods imaginable — or fantasy images of them, in any case — to the eager eyes of the masses.