Thursday, January 04, 2007

Book Report/Script Analysis: "The Devil Wears Prada"

“The Devil Wears Prada”?

Where are all those snooty Euro-socialist, fancy-schmanzy lit airs you take so much pleasure in showing off highway scribe?

Alas! the scribe received a review of his novel,
“The Sidewalk Smokers Club,” done by none other than his loving mother, remarking on the excellent prose, but lack of storytelling prowess.

That hurt. Once the dart was delivered, Mom tried to pass it off as the commentary of woman who doesn’t know much about such things, but that didn’t wash because a big shot N.Y. agent named Paul Cirone told the scribe pretty much the same, noting there were too many mini-sermons on the state of modern life hindering the narrative

And they can’t both be wrong, can they?

Sure they can. “The Sidewalk Smokers Club,” is intended as social commentary and satire; the kind of stuff you read here daily, hung upon the skeleton of a loose, but fast-paced narrative.

The goings-on of some preposterous people staking their futures over cigarettes are hardly as important as the way they relate to those things contained in the mini-sermons on modern life.

Nonetheless, the scribe took Mom’s advice - which she grafted from an interview with that guy who sells millions of books, Grisham - and read a recent bestseller just to see what’s-what out there in the corporate chain store book market.

“The Devil Wears Prada” seemed like a good choice. When it turned out not to be, the scribe persisted to the end because he thought an analysis of how the ensuing blockbuster movie – featuring Meryl Streep and a hotty named Anne Hathaway – compared with Lauren Weisberger’s original text, would be interesting for you, the highwayscribery nation.

(See? the scribe’s already been commercially influenced).

Where, you ask, does the scribe get off doing script analysis from his shaky perch as low-rent bloggenator?

Well, on top of having a produced feature-length movie to his credit, and 12 more scripts collecting dust on a shelf behind him, the scribe worked as a script analyst during a two-year period for Hollywood’s mid-level ten-percentery (that’s showbiz prose) United Talent Agency and the glossy Creative Artists Agency.

So take that.

Anyway, “The Devil Wears Prada” (TDWP) did not strike the scribe as very good literature, but he learned a few tricks from the savvy Ms. Weisberger, who is living mighty high now thanks to a mostly mediocre effort.

TDWP must have hit all the “write” notes along Sixth Avenue; what with its focus upon the most glamorous sections of New York City society, its weaving of the publishing industry and sundry related characters into the narrative, and the thinly-veiled portrait of a classic Manhattan monster.

The devil in TDWP is one Miranda Priestly editor of the fictional “Runway” magazine. the scribe’s wife, a marvelous and successful fashion designer in what they call the “women’s better contemporary market” informs that Priestly is a not-so-fictional rendering of one Anna Wintour, the top editor at “Vogue.”

Weisberger would seemed to have worked for her as personal assistant, or knew someone who did, or made up a lot of things that rendered a more-than-compelling caricature of the lady.

The story trundles along in a sixteen-year old girl’s prose and while that may have made it a giant hit with sixteen-year-olds coddling “Vogue”-fueled fantasies of New York fashion, it certainly grates on the ears of more seasoned readers.

Similarly, Ms. Weisberger has a poor ear for dialogue in as much as hers is repetitive, overstated, and, again, somewhat sophomoric.

In TDWP, the writer strings together a long rosary of abuse and cruelty wrought by the elder woman upon the younger. Stories of excess.

“Let me tell you about the very rich,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “they are different than you and I.” (or something like that).

Weisberger’s wisest, and probably unintentional, device is the viewing of all this greed, egotism, and waste through her own middle-class eyes.

Familiar with fashion, big cities, and aristocratic classes, and long fallen out of the middle-class, the highway scribe found very little that was revealing, but Weisberger and her handlers were aiming elsewhere and those people see such things with the same eyes she did.

In this book, Miranda Priestly has little, if anything at all, to say to her assistant. She is trash, a narrow necessity, of little consequence, and this aspect of the piece rings quite true. Authentic even.

The set-up involves the protagonist and first-person narrator, Andreah (Andy), recently graduated from Brown University in Rhode Island, trying to get through just one year of abuse, for thereafter Priestly becomes a potent godmother punching literary tickets for those who have survived her.

The abuses are dispersed in between the subtexts of Andy’s unraveling relationship to her long-time boyfriend Alex (a fledgling teacher of troubled kids), and her wacky hippy-like, bottle-tippling, boy-sipping childhood friend and roommate Lily, who is coming undone.

Alex is losing interest with Andy as Miranda sucks every minute out of her waking life with demands for steaks she will not eat and the trademark white Hermés scarves she loses as if they were tissue paper.

As Alex fades, a hot young writer (Bret Easton Ellis?) continues his pursuit of the no-nonsense and unaffected Andy; his adorable curls and easy charm harbingers of life working at the “New Yorker” and endless nights out to dinner with “interesting people.”

The resolution occurs in Paris where Andy is thrust into a role supposedly reserved for her workplace rival, Emily.

She is at the end of the long year with this one test remaining. All goes well, great even, on one magic evening when the Hot Young Writer surprises Andy with lots of money-honeyed romance and Miranda surprises her with a little positive feedback and a promise to get her in at the “New Yorker.”

Returning home to her suite at the Paris Ritz, Andy learns her best friend Lily has been in a drunken car accident and reduced to a coma. Boyfriend Alex and her Dad think it’s time to cut out all this silly fashion nonsense and come home to await Emily’s awakening.

the scribe is no rabid careerist, but that seemed rather stupid and Andy agreed, choosing to stay on, have a little more fun in Paris, and gain a career while her friend slept off the near-tragedy.

But Miranda has other plans, or at least one more insurmountable demand that obligates Andy to kiss-off the whole damn thing and go home unemployed, where pretty good things (not fabulous things) happen to her and she lives happily ever after.

For those of you who haven’t seen the Hollywood version, the rosary of cruelties and such are broken down into a few set pieces and one long montage of fast-cutting daily abuse.

All the exciting and secondary characters fleshed out in the novel as a parade of fashion crazies are reduced to one rather conservative gay fashion editor assayed by Stanley Tucci. Andy, in the film, is no longer from Brown, rather Chicago and you can draw your own conclusions as to why the film makers found that adjustment necessary.

Best friend Lily becomes somebody else altogether, murky and undefined and unnecessary. Alex is morphed into Nate and drops from over-educated educator to an assistant sous chef at an indeterminate local eatery. Again, draw your own conclusions.

The screenwriter, Aline Brosh McKenna, saw fit to give the odd couple - Andy and Miranda - a relationship that does not exist in the book (the part the scribe thought was “authentic” sounding). It’s a relationship that starts out cold, but which, and thanks to the good-hearted efforts of our beloved Andy, grows slowly warmer - Miranda unwillingly softening.

That’s not authentic at all, rather very Hollywoody and damaging to the cause given the point the novelist was trying to make about “those people” lording it above the rest of us.

Whereas in the novel, Miranda is married to a happy-go-lucky rich guy that she adores, McKenna thought she needed a divorce-bound marriage that would, in the end, make her seem more “vulnerable” and human.

But Weisberger only once gives Miranda a softer side, and that’s through the eyes of Andy who thinks she finds her looking sad one elegant evening.

Thanks to the miracle of DVD technology, the stuff which ended up on the cutting room floor shows the lengths to which the director sought to fluff up their nonexistent friendship when an important thrust to TDWP is just how inhuman these rich wack-jobs can be.

And finally, McKenna concocts some crazy machine at the end whereby Stanley Tucci’s sweet gay guy is promised, in Paris, an important slot as president of a new company featuring a Hot Young Designer the suits have decided to take global. After learning this, Andy beds down with the Hot Young Writer who ruins the morning next by revealing himself to be a vile salamander colluding with the magazine’s French editor to squeeze Miranda out of her job and set himself up as an editorial baron all at the same time.

Despite a year of denigration, Weisberger’s rather retrograde protagonist tries to warn and protect Miranda who, of course, needs no help at all, managing to shuffle the French editor into what was going to be Stanley Tucci’s position (cruel fashionistas!) and leaving the Hot Young Writer out in the cold, as it were.


The big ending is hardly woven into what comes before, feels tacked on. That’s not the end of the world. the scribe has done that to decent effect in ending a screenplay. From a literary point of view, film can be very limiting at times.

But this ending is worse than then novel’s; mucks things up when, whatever the book’s flaws, the choice between friendship and career is more simply posed without a bunch of rave-up dialogue about Andy have “changed into someone else” and gone (yes) “over to the dark side.”

This is the stuff that makes Hollywood an unfriendly place for writers. The need of many people to justify overpaid middle positions by sticking their grimy minds into something that already works fine, just so they can point to SOMETHING they have contributed.

And it’s paragraphs like the last one that are responsible for the long antagonism between writers and the film colony, and the reason why they saw fit to take a character like the Hot Young Writer, crafted in the novel as a shiny and appealing apparition, and turn him into a worm for the purpose of...of...of...

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