Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Devil Prefers the Film Version

Not long ago, my boss loaned me her personal copy of The Devil Wears Prada. While my boss is no Miranda Priestly, there is a certain irony in someone who has the capacity to make her employees so crazy loaning one of them a book about a boss who makes people crazy.

Truth be known, even though I was keen to see the movie, I never intended to read the book for the simple reason that I hate "chick lit. I hate the name. I hate the plot lines. On the likability scale chick lit is down there with Oprah's Book Club, and you know how I feel about anything related to Oprah, whom I like to think of as my celebrity nemesis.

How I feel about Oprah is the polar opposite of how I feel about Meryl Streep, whom I have loved ever since seeing her in the film version of Issak Dineson's Out of Africa when I was a teenager. It is one of my all-time favorite movies (not to mention a book that is well worth reading).

Back when I first saw the film, it's main appeal was the sheer beauty of the filmscapes. Now, many (many) years later, after having experienced the beauty of Dinesen's prose, I realize that the beauty of the cinematography reflects the poetry of the author's own words:

If I know a song of Africa, - I thought -, of the Giraffe, of the African new moon lying on her back, of the ploughs in the fields, and the sweaty faces of the coffee-pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Would the air over the plain quiver with a color that I had on or the children invent a game in which my name was, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or would the eagles of the Ngong look out for me?

In one short paragraph, Dinesen captures what we all want - to matter. If there's one thing people all over share in common (actually there are many things!), it is for their song to be heard. No one wants to die unnoticed, unloved. I suppose that, at least in terms of her art, this is something that need not worry Ms. Streep.

It is because of this that I was so interested in seeing the Devil Wears Prada movie. While it cannot be compared to Streep's earlier movies like Out of Africa or Silkwood (it just can't, they're totally different worlds), Streep is expectedly delightful as the self-absorbed ueber-bitch, Miranda Priestly. Priestly is rumoured to have been inspired by Vogue editor, Anna Wintour, for whom Lauren Weisberger worked early in her career.

Wherever the character came from, Streep, more than any other element (even the great clothes...well, some were great...Oh, Anne Hathaway, why did you agree to that weird getup with the odd off the shoulder sweater/blouse combo and newsboy cap?), makes the film entertaining. What I expected would become a tedious character in a novel (I was right, by the way), is so craftily rendered by Streep's soft, controlled voice and expressions that she somehow manages to escape becoming just a charicature.

Miranda is a study in bitchiness, yet there are moments when Streep manages to make her an almost sad figure. I'm not saying that she is ever likable (it's hard to like someone whose song includes soul sucking), but Streep's portrayal does hint at a depth that would be lost in the hands of a lesser actress. Plus, she wears some awesome shoes.

Kicky shoes aside, is it a great movie? The best movie ever made? Well, probably not, but it is entertaining. It diverted me from my concerns for almost two hours and I'm still not sorry I paid full price to see it. Trust me, that means a lot. I am cheap and generally unwilling to pay more than economy pricing for movies not involving Johnny Depp. So, all in all, I can in good conscience recommend getting to know The Devil (as long as you do it via the movie and not the book).


Jen said...

Meryl is so fantastic. I haven't seen The Devil Wears Prada yet, but I want to -- I'm glad to hear it get another recommendation.

Chris said...

Having understood barely a word of that posting, the only thought that I can offer is this: which films are equally as good as the books on which they were based? You guys are far more knowledgeable about both films and books than I am, but here's the very short list that comes to my mind immediately:

Cuckoo's Nest. 'Nuff said.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I really thought that if ever a book was unfilmable, this was it, but somehow they took its spirit and portrayed it on screen.

Jen said...

I was just thinking about this the other day. Two book/movie combos that I think are equally good in their own ways:

The Wonder Boys
The Princess Bride

I'm sure there are others, but those are the two that popped into my head.

Chris said...

I've never even heard of either of those but, as I said, my knowledge base is limited.

Years ago, I caught the last twenty minutes or so of a movie that I thought was stunning. If the rest of it was as good, The Grapes of Wrath with Henry Fonda would have to be a contender. I don't know of any other Steinbeck adaptation that would qualify.

Martina said...

She IS fantastic, Jen. I HIGHLY recommend the movie over the book (though I think you could wait until it comes out on DVD).

Basically it comes down to this:
BOOK VERSION = Kind of entertaining for a while, then you just keep thinking "Ok, I get it. Your boss is a bitches. Are you done yet?"
MOVIE VERSION = Entertaining and just the right length.

Martina said...

I thought of another one where the movie version was great (one of my favorite movies, which I actually did enjoy more than the book):

Cold Comfort Farm

Chris said...

IMDb has two movies listed for Cold Comfort Farm, both "made for TV". One is from 1995, the other from 1968. Both have wonderful casts, which would be good enough reason to watch. The DVD for the later one is now one of my eBay on-going searches.

Fab book.

Martina said...

Hmmm I have never heard of the 1968 version. I was referring to the one with Kate Beckinsale and Ian McKellan, but I'll have to check the other out too. Thanks!