I wanted to like The Devil Wears Prada. Honestly I did. I love fashion, I love satire, I thought Emily Blunt was astonishingly good in the strange and mesmerizing My Summer of Love (2004), I thought Anne Hathaway was terrific in Brokeback Mountain (and can't wait to see what she'll do as a young Jane Austen), and as for Meryl Streep--well, the woman could play Third Bag Lady in Crowd and still take your breath away. And she does create a living human being out of the cartoon that her character, Miranda Priestly, was in the Lauren Weisberger source material.
But the movie itself substitutes flash for chic and seems peculiarly out of sync with contemporary haute couture. Writing in the New York Times (access restricted to subscribers), Ruth La Ferla quoted several fashion insiders who noted the film's many stylistic anachronisms. Example:
''The hair, the clothes, the furs, the handbags, the editor's apartment, it's very much the heyday of the 80's, which was our flashiest moment to date,'' said Tiffany Dubin, a former curator of vintage fashion for Sotheby's.
Even the soundtrack seemed anachronistic. The effect is to make the movie a period piece rather than a slice of contemporary high life.
Now comes David Denby's review in The New Yorker, part paean to Streep and part Denby's attempt to prove he understands the fashion industry (whose representatives fill the magazine's pages with drool-eliciting ads). Denby's usual sharp eye goes astigmatic here, though. The clothes decidedly do not evoke "insolent panache" but rather drag-queen posturing in vintage Donna Karan; as many others have pointed out, there's scarcely a Prada on the screen, not to mention the more of-the-moment Marc Jacobs and Chloe. (Too expensive for the film's measly $100,000 costume budget, eked out to the max by Sex and the City's Patricia Field.)
Nor is the film "bracingly candid about the role of money in fashion's rituals," as Denby writes. In fact, we have no idea how much the competitive, scrambling editorial assistants earn or how they afford their clothes and beauty regimens--are their parents still supporting them? (And while we're on the subject of money: Can't Miranda Priestly afford a real executive assistant--the sort of mature, hyperefficient majordomo you see in CEOs' offices in every other industry? I'll bet Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina never have employed inexperienced, fresh-out-of-college secretaries.) And the scene in which Hathaway as Andy distributes fashion swag to her "real-world" pals is skewed to make us merely envious rather than enlightened. Yeah, right, it's a comedy--but it would have been far more bracing (and funny) if its claws had been sharpened a bit.
And those belts Andy snickers at? Not the "cerulean" of Andy's sweater, Mr. Denby, but rather aquamarine. Really, as Miranda would say, can't anybody get anything right around here?