Watching: The Devil Wears Prada

I bow at the altar of Meryl Streep, now and forever. What she can do with a quarter-smile, a sneer, a roll of the eyes, and the word "Go" is nothing short of a miracle. She was a pleasure to watch from start to finish: not nice, or likeable, but blessedly human. "That's all" is my new mantra.

Another miracle: this film is a thousand times more enjoyable than it has any right to be, which is a testament to the writers, director, and actors, because the book was excruciatingly godawful. And yet I read the whole damn thing anyway, which I don't suppose says anything good about me.

Also: if the Devil is based in any way on the real Anna Wintour, a hearty round of bravas for Anna Wintour. Everyone has had a boss like this (of course she's exaggerated for effect, this isn't cinéma vérité, for Chrissake, but it's not as though she comes to work with a gun), and if you haven't had a boss like this, then I feel a little sorry for you because it would probably have done you a world of good. Near the end she makes a speech to the "heroine," about choices: the choices she advocates are clear-cut and cold and more than a little ruthless, having everything to do with business and nothing to do with friendship. In the context of business, they make perfect sense, because business is not about friendship, or being nice, or being likeable, it's about selling a product (any product), and because in business the first rule is save yourself first. Always. Is that a surprise to anybody? It wouldn't be if you've ever been on the receiving end of a company-wide "reduction." All I could think as I was watching her make her own choice, wherein she screws over a loyal employee in order to keep her job, was, Of course. What else could she possibly do?

But because the film must have a Moral, she must be the Devil, and her choice represents the Dark Side. And because our "heroine" is a wide-eyed good girl with a journalism degree from Northwestern and an ill-shaven boyfriend who spouts High Ideals and rhapsodizes over the wonders of grilled cheese sandwiches, we must all be taught the following lessons:

1) self-righteous poverty is fun!
2) Jarlsberg cheese is where it's at!
3) business is bad!
4) money is bad!
5) skinny chicks are mean!
6) pale girls rule! (actually, I liked that lesson)
7) sexy underwear is okay!
8) menial tasks and long hours at starter jobs are only okay as long as they aren't in any way fashion-related, because fashion is frivolous and soul-sucking and full of temptations like glamour, beauty, Paris, parties at the Metropolitan Museum, and one-night-stands with Simon Baker! All of which are very, very bad! And shame on you for wanting any of these things! You're very bad!
8) follow your rainbow, sucka!

Actually it wasn't as black & white as all that—there was a balance and nuance to it, and even the filmmakers seemed to want to limp away from their own plot-driven choice at the end: the "heroine" gets to keep her scruffy boyfriend and follow her rainbow, but they also let the Devil remain a strong woman who could make sacrifices and succeed without becoming nice or likeable, without having to "grow as a person" and see the evil of her devilish ways, and most decidedly without having to learn any tedious half-assed lessons like "follow your fucking rainbow."

So I would see it again. And here's the secret about me: I would choose the dark side every damn time.

+ from my favorite review:

“The Devil Wears Prada” is bracingly candid about the role of money in fashion’s rituals. To outsiders, it is, after all, a strange business. A Chanel suit may be built to last, but the industrial side of fashion requires that many goods that seem perfect at a given moment look out of the question a few years later. Miranda Priestly is powerful because she makes definitive judgments that are meant to hold sway no longer than a season or two.

— The New Yorker (David Denby)