Release Date: June 30th, 2006
niche: n. A special area of demand for a product or service.
I site the definition for the word niche because of the fact that it will be a very pivotal word in the description of the 20th Century Fox Release The Devil Wears Prada, and I will be using it often in this particular review. But before I go and slenderize this film by calling it a niche film, I must first elaborate on what I am talking about when I combine the words niche and film. When speaking of a niche film, I am referring to films that serve a very specific segment of society, and to illustrate this I will take two very successful 2006 releases and show the difference. Sometimes these segments of society can be very large slices of the populous, as is the case with films like Superman Returns, where the mass appeal was limited but success was built on a large and loyal fan base. Then you get a film such as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, where a mass appeal spawned a very large turnout in theaters. And I while I do understand that not everyone who saw Superman Returns was a huge comic book nerd, the fact that it did not do as well as predicted only illustrates my point further.
The Devil Wears Prada is in it’s essence a niche film. It stars Anne Hathaway as Andy Sachs, a young plain Jane type from the Midwest who has traveled to New York and lucked into a job at the world renowned Runway Magazine. There she is tossed, almost against her will, into a world of fashion, backstabbing, and unfavorably high standards; all being orchestrated by the devil incarnate, Editor Miranda Priestly, played by the incomparable Meryl Streep. While Andy has very little interest in fashion and even less of a taste for doing the bidding of Miranda Priestly, she knows that success in such a job would undoubtedly allow for plenty of opportunities in the world of New York journalism. She sets forth to take on the task of working the job “that millions of girls would kill for” and finds out that in order to win the game at the top of the fashion world, she must make some changes to her own life. And making such changes could put some of her closest personal relationships at risk.
The story is your standard rags to riches, ugly duckling scenario. In fact I am beginning to see a career trend for lead actress Anne Hathaway that consistently puts her in these kinds of roles. Her character of Andy is a sweet girl, but she plays up being na¯ve a little too much in this film. It is sad to see her regurgitating her role from The Princess Diaries; I would much rather see her take on more ambitious roles as an adult (a la Brokeback Mountain.) But while this is something that we have seen in the past from Ms. Hathaway, her character is palpable and does not bring down the film in any way.
Meryl Streep’s performance, on the other hand, gives this film a character in Miranda Priestly that is as emotionally diverse as she is demanding. There is no one in the business that will ever argue that Streep is anything less than a superb actress, and she shows us why in this film. Her performance is predictably devious, dynamic, and ultimately the soul of a decent niche film. She has the ability to embody a character and make them come to life right in front of her eyes, and she does so splendidly with her white haired, Gucci wearing alter persona. For much of the film we can easily believe that someone like this really does exist in the world, and it gives us the creeps.
The major shortfall of a film like The Devil Wears Prada is in essence that it is strictly a niche film. Much like the book upon which it is based, it is a unique and private look into what really goes on in one of the worlds most demanding industries. Unfortunately though, the subject matter is relatively difficult to get into if you are not into fashion, journalism, or any combination of the two. On top of that, for all of us who are drawn to these niche films that at least sport a decent love story sub-plot, there is not much to praise. Andy’s love life comes into play, but it is so short-lived that we don’t have time to connect with her situation.
As a whole, this film was entertaining because it is built into human nature to yearn to see the ugly duckling grow up and defeat the big bad witch. This film has one hell of a big bad witch and a very familiar ugly duckling, which works pretty well. The Devil Wears Prada is well made, especially for a book adaption; it accomplishes its goal of bringing us into the dark side of the fashion industry; and it delivers a heartfelt message in the end. And even though we have seen this small town girl meets big city story in the past, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see this film. If for no other reason I would recommend this flick if you are looking for a solid date night movie, otherwise it would behoove you to wait for the DVD.