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Gods and Monsters

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People who believe in simplicity and integrity do not make movies like The Devil Wears Prada, with its predictable Princess Diaries–goes–to–Condé Nast template, unearned moral superiority, ubiquitous pop-song-infused montages, and ugly-duckling heroine who is neither ugly nor a duckling. It’s bizarre when all the Runway employees wrinkle their noses at Andrea instead of realizing that, with her long legs and neck and skinny face and big, dark eyes, she’s pure Runway. Hathaway overdoes the girlish wonderment and isn’t up to her big, to-hell-with-the-devil scene, but she certainly carries off the clothes. They enhance her and damn her. On cue, her rumpled-dreamboat sous-chef boyfriend (Adrian Grenier) rejects her for becoming one of them and neglecting her friends—preposterous when you consider the hostagelike existence of restaurant underlings, as portrayed in Bill Buford’s Heat.

For all the movie’s dopiness, the director, David Frankel, knows how to accessorize. As the heroine’s snooty rival, the brilliant English actress Emily Blunt is a marvel at conveying the terror beneath the hauteur; Stanley Tucci makes the magazine’s gay art director a ghostly, fatalistic presence, a smart man who long ago stopped thinking for himself.

And Streep? She gives a fabulous minimalist performance. She’s not playing the brusque, speed-freaky Wintour, but a softer, more measured ogre, her silver hair brushed back, her anger signaled in the tiny tensing of a single facial muscle, her eviscerating dismissals fluted with an airy flick of the hand. In rare moments, she lets us see the child under the gorgon visage, but she doesn’t sentimentalize the woman. I’m not sure this Miranda makes as much psychological sense as the book’s Wintour dervish—but I wouldn’t want to work for either one.

Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly is the most faithful film adaptation ever of a Philip K. Dick novel—and also, strangely, the most muted. It’s a pity it doesn’t have more oomph, because the book is arguably Dick’s masterpiece, and as brain-rattling today as when it came out in 1977. The protagonist is a deep-cover agent living among addicts of Substance D, a hallucinogen with amphetamine-like properties. The twist is that his superiors don’t know his true identity—he visits them wearing a “scramble suit.” As his sense of reality begins to splinter from drug abuse, he’s ordered to spy onhimself; and so many of Dick’s pet themes coalesce—the mutability of identity, the fear of government, and the ability of drugs both to liberate the mind and destroy it.

As in Waking Life, Linklater uses “interpolated rotoscoping”: He shoots the film with real actors (here they include Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., and Winona Ryder) and then animates them—the upshot being that all the outlines wiggle, the molecules of reality in constant motion. It’s the perfect language for Dick, but just when the film should take off into the delusional-paranoid ether, it becomes rather static and remote. It’s terribly frustrating when one’s Dick is at arm’s length.

Superman Returns
Directed by Bryan Singer. Warner Bros. PG-13.

The Devil Wears Prada
Directed by David Frankel. 20th Century Fox. PG-13.

A Scanner Darkly
Directed by Richard Linklater. Warner Independent Pictures. R.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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