Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada

In the Faust legend, the aged philosopher yearns to regain youth, discover love, and seek supreme knowledge. In his quest, he sells his soul to Mephistopheles, who transforms him into a young man and grants him all that he asks, but at the price of his immortal soul. In The Devil Wears Prada, the new movie based on Lauren Weisberger's novel, young Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) sells her soul to fashion magazine Runway for a shot at eventual literary success in New York City. When we first meet her, Andy is oblivious of the bitchy ways of the fashion game and its rules -- her goal, after all, is to become a great writer. But before long, she finds herself under the spell of the magazine's demanding Mephistophelian editor-in-chief, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep). In order to survive, Anne dashes away her polyester sweaters, and transforms herself into a stunning beauty. It's a pretty nifty reworking of the Faust story as Miranda shows Andy the beautiful world of haute couture, while Andy develops into a glamorous rising star, but at the price of becoming increasingly alienated from her friends, and in peril of losing herself to the Valentino/Prada powers that be of her new circle.

When Meryl Streep delivers one of her bravura performances, it stays with you; her celluloid image is haunting. She has, in previous occasions, achieved this phenomenon namely in The Deer Hunter and in Sophie's Choice, which to my mind, is one of the great performances in American cinema. Here she does it again, this time in a featured comedic role, which is even harder to pull off successfully. The result is one of the most satisfying performances of the summer months. Although her character never speaks above a whisper, Streep manages to command the film. Her Miranda Priestly rules Runway by fear and intimidation, not by histrionics. Her subtle performance draws you in, and within it you will find treasured moments.

Equally priceless are the performances of Emily Blunt and Stanley Tucci as two of Andy's co-workers at Runway. They are perfectly cast as underlings who equally adore and despise Miranda and the life that they have scratched and clawed for themselves. Ms. Blunt may not be a household name, but she is an accomplished actress, and she proves to be a fine foil. The well-known Mr. Tucci, sporting the biggest ring in the history of the movies, is delightful as a Yoda-like mentor, pulling $800 shoes off the rack and transforming Ms. Hathaway's character into a stunning beauty.

Anne Hathaway is wonderful in this movie. Her transformation from fashion victim to promising star at the magazine isn't exactly on the same level as Eliza Doolittle learning to talk more "genteel-like" but it is in the same cinematic league. The chemistry between Streep and Hathaway is really what makes the film work. In one of the most memorable scenes, Miranda tells Andy that she sees a lot of herself in the young assistant. Somehow, the audience can see this confession coming. It's the kind of candid reflection which is rare in characters that usually populate summer movies.

In the best stories, characters go through incredible life-changing transformations which catapult them into experiences which they never thought they would live through. This is what all the great stories deliver, and this is what draws us to them. The Devil Wears Prada is one of these great stories, and cinematically it is told in such a likeable way, that I am sure that you will enjoy it very much.

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