Before watching the movie:
I think the main reason I was never especially drawn to this movie was because I’m not that into fashion, but then movies can be themed around anything without requiring intimate knowledge of them. And maybe it was also something that didn’t appeal to me because it’s a women-oriented movie and I wasn’t as interested in those in 2006.
I do vaguely recall it being among the movies that I first got a real glimpse of what’s interesting about it at the Academy Awards that year, but like most other movies that I never really considered until the Oscars showed me more than any trailer did, I never really followed up.
After watching the movie:
Andy Sachs, just graduated with a journalism degree, is trying to break into a career, but the closest she can get in New York is a job as the junior assistant to the editor in chief of Runway, the world’s top fashion magazine, Miranda Priestly. Andrea is treated as a slave not only by Miranda, but also the senior assistant Emily. Miranda calls “Andrea” at all hours of the day and night, destroying Andy’s social life and berating her for not living up to impossible expectations like “getting a jet at zero notice in a hurricane”. The closest anyone at Runway comes to being Andy’s friendly to Andy is Nigel the art director, who is sassy and irascible with her, but helps Andy learn how to fit in and perform better at her job, to the point that in the span of a few weeks, Andrea begins to outshine Emily. When Miranda tells Andrea that she wants her to join her on the trip to Paris Fashion Week over Emily, whose whole world revolves around the trip, and refusing could be disastrous for her career, Andrea’s strained relationships with her boyfriend and friends finally unravels, as they claim that she’s become what she started out hating. But this trip has a real chance to be what breaks her into the journalism career she really wants, and besides, Miranda needs Andrea.
While the plot seems simple to the point of parable, the characterizations around it are very richly textured. The writing quality makes me unsurprised this was based on a book. Quite a lot of film adaptations of books have the opportunity to take a starting point already above the quality of most movies and then focus on making it even better or at least not ruining it. Novels are usually of a length that film adaptations have to only include the best parts, and this is almost all good parts. It’s also got a sense of humor that’s almost constantly operating at a high level, where the script, the leads, and the director seem to all have a very polished sense of what they’re trying to achieve.
I’m only just now really getting a sense of the charm of Stanley Tucci. It’s not just his sassy, gay-coded appearance here, although Nigel is a major high point of the movie. His role as Julia Childs’ husband in Julie and Julia is entirely different and at least as endearing. I think he’s been a bright spot in a lot of movies but until Julie and Julia I never identified him as an It’s That Guy. Apparently he was also Captain America’s mentor in The First Avenger, another beloved, though brief role. Meryl Streep of course operates at such a high level in everything she does that I almost forgot to mention her, because whatever she gets cast in she can be counted on to own the part and be the center of attention, and for a role like Miranda Priestly, that’s perfect casting.
Like I had a sense of when I saw clips at the Oscars, I really did miss out on this movie by putting it off so long. It’s funny and relatable and directly ties the archetype of Faust to the everyday job market, asking if it’s really necessary to reinvent yourself as the thing you hate in order to get ahead in your career, while having a lot of fun doing it. The destination is predictable, but the ride is unforgettable.