Deborah Ross

Meryl’s movie

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So, to cut straight to what you really want to know without having to wade through several paragraphs of plot-rehash followed by the director’s CV and his favourite seasonal vegetable, will you like this film? Hell, how should I know? I don’t know the first thing about you. But I will say this: OK, The Devil Wears Prada is no Pour Toi, Un Bon Morceau de Fromage (André Labourious’s seminal masterpiece about a morsel of cheese drifting aimlessly around Paris in the rain) but it does have its merits. True, when Meryl Streep isn’t in a scene the film tends to die on its arse somewhat, and as a satire on the fashion industry it flags in quite a few places, but there are some good jokes in it. And, as Labourious (turnip) himself once said, ‘If you can’t have a bit of cheese in a film, then you must have some good jokes.’ And he’s the master, after all.

The Devil Wears Prada is about an out-of-town dowdy girl called Andrea (Anne Hathaway ...I should be so dowdy!) who gets a job as an assistant to the editor-in-chief (Meryl Streep) of Runway, a high-fashion magazine based in New York. She’s a nice dowdy girl, this girl, but as she gets more and more into both the fashion and the lifestyle she quickly becomes a glamorous but not-nice girl who knows she is glamorous but not nice because her very, very hairy boyfriend — what is that about? — tells her so. And? Well, she thinks on this, agrees the boyfriend is right, quits and reverts to being nice. It’s kind of like Cinderella, except she gives the slipper back. I hope it wasn’t a Blahnik slipper. You don’t get many of those to the pound.

There are some good things in this movie. Styled, as it is, by Patricia Field who also costumed Sex in the City, the fashion porn is tremendous. Even I, who know nothing about fashion and once blanked and then panicked when introduced to Jasper Conran — ‘So, Jasper...,’ I finally stuttered, ‘...pockets. In or out this year?’ — can see that the clothes are lip-smackingly, hip-smackingly fabulous. Prada, Chanel, Valentino, Donna Karan, Galliano, Bill Blass and absolutely nothing at all from George at Asda, which is a little bit strange, I agree. As it happens, the director David Frankel (sweet potato) previously worked on Sex in the City, so this is a very lightweight, Sex-in-City-ish affair, but, what the hell, it’s nice to park the brain sometimes. On the other hand, I should confess that my own brain is so parked that when I recently read ‘Sharon has stroke’ it didn’t occur to me that it had anything to do with Israel. I simply thought: ‘Who’d have imagined Ozzy would outlive her?’ My brain is so parked that, without Labourious, I don’t think it would ever become unparked at all.

That said, there are some cracking lines in this film. ‘Wow, you’re looking so thin!’ Andrea says to Emily, the other assistant. ‘Thank you!’ says Emily proudly. ‘I’m on a great new diet. I don’t eat anything and then, when I feel I’m about to faint, I have a small cube of cheese.’ (Ah, cheese. See how Labourious continues to be an influence?) And there are some nice performances. Emily Blunt is terrific as that other assistant, the super-bitchy Emily. She does ham it up vastly, but is blissfully watchable all the same. Hathaway is fine as the wide-eyed ingénue, and lovely to look at, although, for a ‘smart’ college girl, she did seem a little bit dumb to me. And Meryl? Well, Meryl.

It’s Meryl’s movie, everyone says, and in a way it is. She gives a furiously funny performance as a furiously nasty bit of work. On a typical workday the first words out of her mouth are likely to be: ‘Get me Isaac. I don’t see my breakfast here. Where’s my breakfast? Where’s Isaac? Where’s my eggs? Get me Patricia? Where’s Patricia...?’ So, quite like Matthew d’Ancona, then (I jest; he doesn’t know anyone called Patricia). She is spectacular at put-downs. When Andrea doesn’t react quickly enough, she says: ‘By all means move at a glacial pace. You know how it thrills me.’ But she can say just as much, if not more, by slowly raising a hand or simply adjusting her glasses or by simply pursing her lips. But, as I said earlier, scenes without her suffer horribly. At these moments, the film loses all wit and bite, focusing as it does on a duff subplot to do with Andrea and the hairy boyfriend, which is banal beyond words.

It’s alright, this film. It’s entertaining enough, although after the first 40 minutes or so you’ve seen what it can do and after that it’s just more of the same, pretty much. You’ll laugh quite a lot at the beginning but will probably have run out of steam by the end. It really isn’t up there with Pour Toi, Un Bon Morceau de Fromage but, then, what is?