In the dizzying world of New York fashion, where size 0 is the new 2 and a bad hair day can end a career, Runway magazine is the bible. The fashion monthly is edited by the silver-coifed fashionista Miranda Priestly, who is the walking definition of steel fist in a velvet glove. Anyone who wants to make it in the fashion world must first get past her. So single-minded is her determination that she has blazed through a long line of assistants. It’s a job no self-respecting person should take, yet it’s an opportunity a million young women in New York would kill for.
So who winds up with it? A frumpy recent college grad named Andrea Sachs, who’s never heard of Miranda and wouldn’t know a Jimmy Choo pump from a Manolo Blahnik boot. (“It was this or Auto Universe,” Andy explains during her job interview.) But she has moxie, and Miranda likes that. Slowly but surely, Andy develops a fashion sense and becomes one of The Clackers, so named for the sound their mile-high stiletto heels make on the marble floors. Soon she’s dropping the names of high-end fashion designers, and, much to the dismay of her friends and her boyfriend (Nate), the more successful and fashionable Andy becomes, the less time she has for them.
Andy’s friends remain loyal even as she becomes more inaccessible, and they’re not afraid to tell her off when she needs it. Andy, meanwhile, is good-hearted in the way she treats her colleagues, and she makes every attempt to turn down a trip to Paris because one of Miranda’s other assistants, Emily, wants to go on the trip more. In the end, Andy goes, but never does she look down on Emily for her lowered status in their boss’s eyes. When she gets back, Andy generously gives the free fashions from the trip to Emily. Realizing her priorities have gotten out of whack, she says, “I turned my back on my friends, and for what?” Nate supplies the answer: “For some shirts, shoes and belts.”
Nigel has managed to keep his integrity intact despite working for Miranda for 18 years. He takes Andy under his wing and shepherds her through the cutthroat Runway world while also teaching her to dress more fashionably. Stabbed in the back by a spectacular act of betrayal, Nigel doesn’t lash out but determines to continue to do his job as best he can.
Through negative example, we learn the price Miranda has paid for her success when we get a glimpse of her tension-filled home life, which leads, eventually, to her second divorce.
Andy and Nate share an apartment, and one scene shows her unbuttoning her blouse for him, tantalizing him (and moviegoers) with a glimpse of her bra. In another they share the bed. When Andy complains about her co-workers’ obsession with clothes, Nate says, “I can think of something that doesn’t require any clothing” as he kisses her.
Separated from Nate for a few days, Andy all-to-easily succumbs to the charms of a hotshot journalist, kisses him under a Parisian streetlamp and wakes up in bed with him the next morning. (After his shower, he emerges wearing a very low-slung towel.
An opening montage features quick-cut close-ups of body curves as women get dressed in lacy bras and panties. We see models in lingerie and other skimpy outfits, and many women wear extremely low-cut blouses and dresses.
A woman at an art exhibit tells a friend that she wants to introduce him to someone. “Art and sex,” he says. “Lead the way!”
Emily is hit by a taxi and tossed up against its windshield. We later see her in the hospital with a badly bruised face and a cast on her leg. Andy accidentally closes a taxi’s door on her father. Furious with Miranda, Andy smashes a plate.
A half-dozen s-words. One use of the euphemism “frikken.” Other blemishes include “h—,” “a–,” and British crudities “b-llocks” and “bloody.” God’s name is misused almost 20 times; Jesus’ once.
Frequent scenes of people drinking wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages in social settings. Nigel and Andy toast with champagne. Hearing that Andy is Miranda’s assistant, a designer says, “Then you’re going to need some hard liquor” and pours her some of his special “punch.” Her journalist friend warns her off it, saying the last time he drank it he went berserk and blacked out. After a dinner he begins to kiss Andy; at first she resists, saying, “I’ve had too much wine and my judgment is impaired.” (Indeed. She consummates her failed judgment moments later.)
Emily becomes anorexic (and makes a joke about bulimia) in her desire to fit into the latest Paris fashions, and while the movie attempts to condemn it, it simultaneously plays it for laughs and approves of it, especially when Andy compliments Emily on how thin she has become. Impressionable girls will get the wrong message from that and also from the constant japes about how “fat” the rather tall and gangly Andy is. (Nigel jokes about her being a size 6, and she comes back by saying she’s down to a size 4, to which he reacts approvingly and spins her around to feast his eyes on what’s left of her backside—another reinforcement of the “thin is in” ethos of the story.)
Nate correctly disses unethical behavior, but his suggestion for improvement leaves something to be desired: “I wouldn’t care if you were out there pole dancing as long as you did it with a little integrity.”
The Devil Wears Prada is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Lauren Weisberger, who once worked on the staff of Vogue and based the character of Miranda Priestly on supposedly imperious Vogue editor Anna Wintour. Director David Frankel’s background is in TV writing and directing. Most relevant is his involvement with HBO’s Entourage and Sex and the City. Thus, this movie has a bit of the feel of the glib and morally bankrupt worldview of those shows, in particular the assumption that boyfriends and girlfriends live together and sex on the first date isn’t just OK, it’s expected—after mild, insincere protests from the girl, of course.
The end result of crossing Frankel’s vision with Weisberger’s is a bit of onscreen confusion. Andy works hard and strives to do her job as best she can. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as she does it honestly—which she does. She also learns that dressing fashionably is expected on this job, so she adapts with the help of Nigel. Again, nothing wrong with that, so long as she doesn’t make a god of it—which she doesn’t.
To trim a long philosophical argument down to a few sentences, the supposed moral dilemmas Andy faces are really not moral dilemmas. Is Andy really a villain because she goes to Paris on her boss’s direct orders instead of throwing away her job so that an out-of-favor co-worker doesn’t get passed over for a plum assignment? Only if you jump to the conclusion that the fashion industry is in and of itself inherently, umm, devilish, and that no one with any intelligence or ethics would ever be caught dead working in it, can you get your head around what’s going on here.
I can’t get my head around what’s going on here.
Similarly, while there are some positive lessons, they come across for the most part as trite platitudes: obsessing on exterior beauty is shallow and bad, concentrating on inner beauty is good. (“You sold your soul the day you put on those Jimmy Choos.”) True enough, but Andy’s crime seems not to be obsession, or the love of clothes, if you will, it’s the clothes themselves that are somehow wrong. (Read 1 Timothy 6:10 to see how Scripture deals with money, in this regard.)
Triteness doesn’t transform into complete tripe, though, thanks to Meryl Streep’s superb acting. [Spoiler Warning] In a concluding scene she says to Andy, “I see a great deal of myself in you,” playing it with such subtlety that you’re not sure if she means it as a compliment—or a warning. Later, when Andy rejects the high-stress world of Runway, Streep looks at her, and you’re not sure if she’s angry at Andy or proud of her—and maybe just a bit jealous.
That’s a forkful of carbohydrates you can sink your teeth into. (As is the fact that Andy is taken to task for working so hard that she can’t nurture her personal relationships.) Too bad there’s no one on Runway‘s staff who actually eats carbs. Casual sex, slinky clothes and crude language? Yes. Carbs? Never.