The Devil Wears Prada

Women in black: Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt

 

The sort of film that has an inbuilt media audience – women’s magazines – who will receive it with the same lack of scrutiny as they treat each launch of a new beauty product, The Devil Wears Prada is a clever title halfway towards being a clever film. It’s adapted by Aline Brosh McKenna from Lauren Weisberger’s chick-lit novel, and since Weisberger’s spent some time working at American Vogue as editor Anna Wintour’s assistant we don’t have to look too far for its inspiration. Anne Hathaway plays the simpering Weisberger avatar, an intern/newbie at a fashion magazine not unadjacent to Vogue. And Meryl Streep is also clearly styled on the fashion bible’s redoubtable editor, who isn’t nicknamed “Nuclear” Wintour for nothing, a woman whose helmet-haired pronouncements make and break careers both inside the magazine and out in the big designer-y world.

So far, so frightening. Getting the best of it is Emily Blunt, playing the posh English cow who guards the boss (and her own job) like a hound at the gates of hell. Stanley Tucci, meanwhile, puts in another of those amazingly camp performance he seems to be able to pull out of nowhere and provides an otherwise slightly absent beating heart as the magazine’s fashion stylist. The plot? Hathaway cowed, gulled, at bay, crossing fashionista swords with Blunt, shrinking in awe at Streep’s every utterance, consoled by Tucci, rinse and repeat. There’s more meat on a supermodel, but – as with the fashion world – what is on offer looks tasty enough. Structured like a fashion mag, it’s a case of one page of substance followed by ten pages of name-dropping, product placement and status-shaming. In the old-media world these are called advertisements. However, as readers of fashion magazines will tell you, the advertisements are every bit as much part of the experience as the editorial. And in among all this glossy stuff is a nub of something delicious, a drama that teases us about which way it’s going to go. Is this Cinderella (Hathaway blossoming and going to the ball)? Or a slo-mo Faust (Hathaway selling her soul for a gaudy bauble)? Not quite sharp or angry enough to be a satire, it’s clearly aimed at people who know their Jimmy Choo from their Dolce and Gabbana (yes, that’s an easy one) and don’t, unlike me, tend to buy their clothes on eBay.

 

The Devil Wears Prada – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2006

 

 

 

 

Havoc

Anne Hathaway vamps in Havoc

 

 

 

 

What’s this – lovely, sweet, wide-eyed Anne Hathaway saying “fuck”? Getting into a fight? Showing us her breasts? Giving a blowjob? And within the first ten minutes of the film starting too. Someone, it seems, is after an image makeover, and thanks to director Barbara Kopple, she gets one. That might be what Havoc is most remembered for, in fact, because in most other respects this is a rather disappointing “moral panic” movie like the ones from the 1950s where teenagers would race bikes too fast or hang with the wrong crowd, or both. Here the wrong crowd is people of colour and it’s the white people who get into trouble hanging with them. To be fair to Kopple and writers Stephen Gaghan and Jessica Kaplan, the emphasis is not so much on colour as simply being culturally wrongfooted – “some lines aren’t meant to be crossed” proclaims the tagline – the story being about Allison and Emily, two nice white girls (Hathaway and Bijou Phillips, also not averse to flashing the mammaries) with a love for all things gangsta, who wind up in the orbit of some Latino gangbangers after heading into East LA for thrills and, eventually, urban cock. But things quickly go from slumming-it edgy to super scary after Mexican drug boss Hector (Freddy Rodriguez) takes them at their word and offers full initiation into the gang.

Kopple has won two Oscars for her documentaries on social themes (1976’s Harlan County USA, and 1990’s American Dream, both about industrial disputes). And she’s clearly been hired here to deliver shakycam edge and street-real looks, both of which she achieves. Kopple has no hand in the script, which is where the film soils itself, whether it’s in the “we’re teenagers and we’re bored” tell-don’t-show introductions to Allison and Emily or the later pulpit-bashing homeboy speeches by the disgruntled ethnics – we’re human beings, man, and we’ve got a grievance. Whether that’s down to Kaplan’s original draft, written when she was a 16-year-old high schooler and from personal experience, or the later rewrite by Gaghan, who won an Oscar for his work on Traffic, we’ll probably never know. But if the voice of authenticity was ever there in the original, Gaghan’s taken it out. If it wasn’t… then his attempts to put it back in haven’t worked.

Either way, the result is a modern updating of the teenagers-gone-wild film, a genre that only Harmony Korine seems to be able to wring any joy out of these days. But at least it shows that Hathaway is looking to move beyond the wholesome Disney-ish fare of The Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted. Next up, she’s in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, the “gay cowboy” movie. Now there’s a genre that doesn’t come freighted with baggage.

 

 

Havoc – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

 

© 2006 Steve Morrissey

 

 

 

Ella Enchanted

Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy in Ella Enchanted

 

 

Cinderella updated, with Anne Hathaway as the luckless teen Ella and Hugh Dancy as Prince Char. You see what they’re doing with the names? As with the names so with the film – it doesn’t quite work. For starters we have Hathaway herself – so sweet and milky she could double up as a bedtime drink. Then there’s the plot, which has Ella being given a special gift by her fairy godmother (Vivica A Fox). This “gift” is that she must obey any order she is given. This is someone’s idea of a clever feminist twist on the old story – girls and their constrained life choices – but it hamstrings the plot, slowing the action down to a crawl. Someone else’s big idea was to chuck in the best elements of Shrek and A Knight’s Tale – irreverent dialogue, wisecracking animals, songs from the 1970s (ELO and Leo Sayer fans, roll up). It’s not all grim though. The look of the thing, for one, is fun, fresh, bright and original, with everyone living in a futuristic primary coloured version of Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood. And there are some nice turns from the cast – Minnie Driver is on good form as a dizzy fairy who can’t get the spells right; Joanna Lumley is in Patsy-from-AbFab overdrive as the wicked stepmother with two indolent daughters. The feel is kids TV, there’s obligatory multicultural tokenism and the overall idea is that if the kids don’t buy the empowerment angle, they might be distracted by the bright lights and jangly music.

© Steve Morrissey 2004

 

Ella Enchanted – at Amazon