Let me tell you about the sheer brilliance that is Meryl Streep and her creation of Miranda Priestly.
Ask any young woman what her favourite film of Meryl’s would be, and I’m quite certain that The Devil Wears Prada would come up in conversation, favourite or not. And it may seem like a generic answer: oh, a film about fashion, so obviously women would identify with it. No, that’s not it. This film isn’t about fashion. This film, as Meryl says, “is a story about a woman at the head of a corporate ladder who’s misunderstood, who’s motives and pressures on her are intense and who doesn’t have time to play certain nice games.”
And though screentime and first bill casting can indicate that Andrea Sachs is the main character, who are you really left thinking about at the end of the film?
Miranda Priestly — the woman who was written as a fictional equivalent to Anna Wintour from the novelist Lauren Weisberger’s experience as her assistant — in the novel was a raging, two-dimensional boss from Hell written only to antagonize and complicate the lives of her employees with impossible standards and even more impossible demands. She was expected to resemble Vogue’s editor-in-chief (Miranda’s office in the film a near replica of Anna’s), so imagine everyone’s fucking surprise the first day Meryl showed up on set wearing an untested wig white as snow, with a voice that never raised, where the most deadly delivery was a whisper.
But this scene on the right, this scene that hadn’t existed until Meryl went and thought, “wait a minute, there’s an imbalance of character here…” so she brought it to light and this was written. Sparingly, as it was said, yet one of the very few scenes to be altered in the entire film. This is how it went: Meryl showed up to the scene without any make-up. She walked in, didn’t talk to anybody, sat down and did it, got up and left, went downstairs and waited. She did this scene once.
And the thing is, this wasn’t meant for you to suddenly cheer for Miranda; it was to show you that she was human and that her success came with a costly price that hurt her the most. She thawed the Snow Queen, extinguished the flames of the fiery boss from Hell and gave her what she never had on paper: substance.
If completely reinventing a character from a subpar novel by giving her actual character and successfully distinguishing her from the woman she was based on isn’t considered pure talent, then I don’t know what is.