Review: ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ The Oscar Nominated Film By David Frankel (This Review Was Written About An Year Ago)

(May Contain Spoilers)

Cover of "The Devil Wears Prada [Blu-ray]...

Cover of The Devil Wears Prada [Blu-ray]

Summary: “A Million Girls would Kill for It” yet no one is hurt, bruised or well, killed

“A million girls would kill for this job” is iterated with awe by Emily Charlton, Christian Thompson, Nigel and Doug when referring to the position of Miranda Priestley’s assistant. It is indeed a prestige value to do work for Miranda, to answer her calls, to get her lunch, to deliver ‘The Book’ to her residence, to arrange for dresses, to … walk her dogs, to eh…. steal a copy of the unpublished Harry Potter manuscript so that her precious daughters get to know whether Harry survives or not, to …. do anything and everything SHE wishes, because YOU have become the ‘coveted’ assistant of Miranda Priestley, even though she may rechristen you to suit her memory. You also have to endure all her petty whims and her acidic tongue, otherwise you won’t get all those precious goodies like a Chanel (or whatever the brand name is) purse, lip gloss, eye roller etc. And what happens after the initial bullying, insults and browbeating? You are still treated like dirt. Still YOU are Miranda Priestley’s assistant – she can make or mostly break you.
The Devil Wears Prada had the potential of becoming a dark, twisted comedy drama or even a thriller had it utilized the ‘million girls would kill…’ line literally. Emily Charleston certainly seemed envious of Andy Sachs becoming the apple of Miranda’s beady eyes. She was so keen to go to Paris and meet those models, designers and writers – if only Sachs did not get appointed. She may have selected the previous assistants purposely so that they disappoint Miranda and get fired; EMILY would get to be her assistant alone, had Sachs not arrived.

Instead Devil Wears Prada chooses a safer, predictable approach of Sachs involvement in fashion and her subsequent understanding about herself and her true aims. Even this would’ve hit the mark had Miranda been a lot tamer or a lot more autocratic. When Sachs has diligently worked for Miranda, even at the cost of her close ones, and endured Miranda’s irrational behavior for so long, it seems insincere of her to suddenly empathize with her boss just because her boss has her own personal problems. To me, that moment was cinematic manipulation at its worst.

Miranda is a highly ambitious, career-oriented woman who does not run Runway but rather rules Runway. She is the female Caligula in the field of fashion, and her own employees scurry to their respective places whenever she arrives. She does not accept anything that is less than perfect, and then she does not even give some encouragement to her designers. How can Andy Sachs, who experiences Miranda’s abuse of power every day, have a change of heart after one fleeting moment of vulnerability from Miranda? She does not want Miranda to be replaced, saying that Runway is Miranda’s life and baby; well, if this is how Miranda treats her baby, then isn’t it better if there is a change of leadership?

Another factor that mars Miranda’s softer side is that this is a film and not a television series, unlike the hugely popular Ugly Betty, where the villainous Vanessa Williams cools down gradually as the show comes to a close. It would take more than a single scene to convince me that Miranda is really a suitable leader of Runway. Another alternative ending that would have suited the title was to have Andy resume her work with Miranda and becoming as dominating and hard-hearted as her (something similar to All about Eve).

The lightweight happy ending in Devil Wears Prada robs the edginess that it could’ve had. Also, Andy Sachs should’ve left her inconsiderate boyfriend and stayed with the writer, who to me actually had some chemistry with her. All this is compromised to make the movie (and the book) more suited for young love-story-and-happy-ending loving girls. And based on the gross sales of the movie and the book, it did work for the intended audience. I found the story to be (a favorite word used by some reviewers on IMDb) smarmy, lightweight and pandering.

Meryl Streep seemed more like a supporting ‘Miranda watches over us’ figure rather than the main actress. She speaks laconically, incisively and cuttingly in a cynical low tone that does make her appear like a monster, yes, but her character did not really require Streep to say, work her butt off, like in Sophie’s Choice or Out of Africa. Neither did her character have to undergo a sea of contradictory emotions that required great prowess. I am not speaking against Streep, she was Miranda, but she had a supporting influence on the main actress, Anne Hathaway. Crowing her with best actress nominations instead of supporting actress will only make DWP seem like another Meryl vehicle. Anne Hathaway makes this movie look more like her fairytale, where she meets all these people and discovers herself – shimmerier on the surface than within. Emily Blunt is given a terrible and reductive role; the writer could have done wonders with a character like her, instead she just played a sidekick. Stanley Tucci‘s subtle and restrained performance is also underutilized. In short, everyone, including many of the supporting parts, played their characters well, but their characters were written without much thought.

Putting Madonna’s numbers like Vogue and Jump were awkward – I only thought they would have it in the trailer and not in the middle of the film. Speaking about Madonna, there is a slick number of hers in Confessions on a Dance Floor called ‘Like it or not’ which is like a middle finger to her haters. ‘This is who I am, You can like it or not, You may love me or leave me, But I’m never going to stop, oh no!’ she sings. Had Andy continued her alliance with Miranda and left her former, bubbly self, Devil Wears Prada would have been a sinful delight.

Review of Meryl Streep And Tommy Jones Starrer ‘Hope Springs’ By David Frankel, also the director of The Devil Wears Prada

English: Meryl Streep on the 56th Internationa...

3 Time Oscar Winner Meryl Streep  Plays Kay In Hope Springs(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Summary: Hope Springs rewards you the time you’ve spent watching the therapy sessions between the couple with a near-brilliant third act spectacularly played by Streep and Jones

The Indian version of Big Brother reality show has a divorced couple under the same roof as two competing contestants. Although I rarely watch the show, I did manage to catch one episode where the couple fought a heated argument involving their past. The husband was extremely defensive and tried to overrule his wife’s allegations by shouting back whenever she tried to put across her point while the wife on the other hand was overly submissive, holding back her voice and nodding as if accepting that everything is her own fault. These two contestants are extremely similar in their personalities to Arnold and Kay, except they seem like they are in their forties…. and they are no longer together.

On the other hand, Kay and Arnold remain a couple for 31 years but seem to have lost the passion and spirit to keep their marriage alive, and therefore, on Kay’s insistence, seek the help of a counselor named Dr. Feld. During their week-long sessions, they are probed about their marriage and sexual fantasies and are instructed to do tasks that shall try to resolve the ‘deviated septum’/the lacunae in their marriage. This gamble has chances of putting their marriage at risk by exposing their weaknesses, but it also has gains that are worth the efforts – a glimmer of hope.

Hope Springs succeeds at bringing joy and hope in not just its protagonists’ lives but also in the audiences’ own satisfaction with the film with its near-brilliant last twenty five minutes that is so well acted by both Streep and Jones that you as the audience member feel completely compensated for the time you have spent listening to the long counseling sessions with the couple. It keeps its plot complexity to the bare minimum by focusing majorly on Kay and Arnold; even Dr. Feld is simply there as a stimulus to change the couple’s lives and so we know nothing much about him. Well, if you really think about it, would you being a patient really want to know about your counselor’s personal life when you are too concerned about yourself? This limited perspective was necessary for us to realize how important the therapy was for the two, especially Kay.

Kay is the faithful wife who is too old-fashioned/submissive to play the role of a seductress or a dominatrix. She is not able to give sex but is more comfortable receiving it, and so fails when she tries giving her husband pleasure in the theater on the recommendation of Dr. Feld (to whom Arnold mentions about having fantasies of banging Kay in public). Arnold finds it hard to assume charge, and neither does he allow his wife to try to fulfill his fantasies. Dr. Feld issues homework not based on predetermined theories but through permutations and combinations of whatever information the couple has given him, for example, Kay hates Arnold’s lack of effort and parsimony, so Dr. Feld instructs him to take his wife on a date at an expensive hotel. The main challenge is to confront the problem in the real world, once the couple has left the holiday spot. After much winnowing and polishing, we just have to see whether the before-after effect works or not.

As mentioned in the third paragraph, the last twenty five minutes of Hope Springs is worth the long (at least in terms of pace and tempo of the movie) wait. Meryl Streep evokes an emotional response in the realest sense from the audience and this isn’t the first time she has done this. Watching her performance is similar to reading Leo Tolstoy‘s War and Peace – both are exquisitely detailed and both make everything right at the crucial moment. In War and Peace, when Natasha has a change of heart and tries to escape with Anatole, you as the reader are completely into her state of mind – you literally experience what she is experiencing. In Hope Springs, the moment came right after Arnold opens his eyes while trying to penetrate Kay and stops sex midway and the camera shows a profile view of Arnold on top of Kay – Kay realizes what has happened and covers her mouth with her hand for a second and then sits on the floor. The way Meryl reacts as Kay had me crying, but I didn’t realize for a few moments that I was in tears and had a lump in my throat. Meryl makes you feel certain sensations that can be only felt when you watch something real –in Out of Africa, towards the end, when Meryl fell to her knees to beg I could actually feel my heart sink into my stomach.

Arnold is very obdurate in his thinking and personality and has his defenses ready in the form of nagging, arguing and browbeating. But with every argument against him gaining strength, his whole body sinks and the only easy solution for him is to leave or neglect the problem itself. This trait is visible in almost every man since men have big egos and a will to prove they are in the right. Tommy Lee Jones channels this down to a T, and substantially assists Meryl in well, driving her character to the point of a nervous breakdown. But Tommy also shows Arnold’s positive side – his sense of humor, his comforting smile and faithfulness. The performance has been overlooked by Golden Globes who have done him a favor by nominating him for ‘Best Actor in Supporting Role’, but it would’ve been a worthy contender had it been nominated.

Last words about the music: Let’s Stay Together complement’s Arnold’s tastes (most men in 50s love such music) but not ‘Why?’ and the one playing while Kay is shopping (non-diegetic music that should’ve been cut out).

Review of Mike Nichols’ 1983 film Silkwood, Starring 3-time Oscar Winner Meryl Streep

Cover of "Silkwood"

Cover of Silkwood

Summary: Silkwood Was A Martryr Who Died For A Greater Cause. The Film Is Less Bothered About The Cause Though, Highlighting More About Everything Karen Lost. There’s Little To Cheer.

Silkwood is one of those movies that you simply should not watch at midnight. Unfortunately, my cable television placed the movie at the 12:30 am slot and on top of it kept no intermissions, not even one during the movie. So I had to stay awake late at night and watch this in the living area, dimming the lights around me and lowering the T.V.’s audibility so that my family would not get disturbed by the warning alarm sounds heard often in the film. Without any intermissions, I was a little lost during the movie because keeping an intermission during films does indeed have a powerful impact if placed at the right point – it increases the audience’s anticipation and also gives them a break to take in all the details.

Silkwood kept chugging on and on in scenes with little dramatic weight (its documentary approach is quite like the lead actress Meryl Streep‘s other film A Cry in The Dark) or any significant narrative development to hold us in. I quite felt like the movie chose the wrong person to tell its story, and it could’ve been told better had Karen Silkwood been a supporting character in a film that rather emphasized on the investigation of Kerr-McGee plant and the lawsuit in the aftermath of Silkwood’s untimely demise. Unlike Erin Brockovich, Silkwood was not able to directly resolve the issue of health and safety of workers, and though she did play a major role in initiating the whole move, her accident martyrs her for a greater cause. The movie isn’t able to deliver her enough justice for her efforts and death, with its epilogue only mentioning that the ‘plant closed down a year later’ – too grim and defeated to inspire.

Karen Silkwood was a courageous small-town gal who took on the Oklahoma nuclear plant where she worked after finding out that it conducted unethical practices without considering workers’ safety. From being one of the bubbliest and most beloved persons among her colleagues and supervisors, Karen eventually lost almost everyone’s support after helping the union in digging out such malpractices happening at the workplace. Her private life too faced its share of difficulties on top of the mess she was already in even before the incident – apart from losing custody of her three kids, Silkwood’s relationship with her boyfriend Drew also suffered when he cautioned her of ‘going too far’ with the case. She didn’t just have to win her colleagues’ support but also prove to the union that she was a smart woman with a sharp mind.

In one of the film’s best acted scenes, Meryl as Karen is discussing recommendations and proposals for the nuclear plant with the senior union members. At first, her suggestions are trivial and her seniors condescendingly put down her ideas and hurriedly begin to leave. It is then that Karen leaves the room and catches them in the corridor where she whispers what she had witnessed at the plant. It is only then that the union takes her seriously. Streep’s excellence is evident during close-ups or mid-shots in this movie’s case (the film rarely has close- ups), but her screen charisma tends to disappear in her attempt to replicate human-like performances. And this becomes a problem whenever the camera goes away from her, especially here in Silkwood where the cinematography is quite conventional like those old films where the cameras moved less and the actors went back and forth. She’s managed to rectify this problem though especially in her recent ventures where her charisma makes for half the performance. Here we manage to catch less than half of whatever she is doing because of the distance the camera maintains.

It’s not just Streep but also actors Cher, Kurt and director Mike Nichols who act and direct respectively in a similar manner. Now I get it they wanted to depict a dull small-town in Oklahoma with as much truism as possible. Cher (playing Karen’s lesbian friend Dolly) wears the most unimposing crumpled and faded jerseys and pants while Russell (playing Karen’s boyfriend Drew) is equally untidy and moves around the house shirtless and in cheap blue jeans (though their performances are great). They do everything in their own lazy pace and Cher’s Dolly is found half the time either in bed or on the couch. On top of this Nichols makes it even more evident that nothing much happens in ‘small town Okie’ by placing his camera at a distance. Only a few times do we get shot/reverse shots between the actors and once or twice we see the camera do an effect other than cutting (a few dissolves and an expected fadeout after the crucial scene). Even the upbeat background music at the beginning slowly turns into bleak mournful tunes as the film progresses. It is only the sound of the warning alarm bells that occasionally appear to raise some momentum.

There is neither enough follow-up of Silkwood’s investigation itself, except for some extended scenes of Karen surreptitiously (hence very slowly) hunting for some ‘confidential information’. I could get up in between, bring some chocolates from the fridge in the kitchen and find myself watching her do the same action. The movie ‘Silkwood’ therefore becomes ‘ambitionless’ and although I do understand it has deliberately downplayed its ‘own cinematic ambition’ just to honor the woman’s life, the movie as a result also becomes ‘one of those inspirational films that come, snag some awards and are soon forgotten’. Or in this film’s case, used as a failed ‘boob-gag’ in Seth MacFarlane‘s unimpressive Oscar show.