Knight at the Movies ARCHIVES
Mommie Dearest in high heels and a hunky, conflicted super hero returns:
two big budget movies gay audiences will gladly call their own
Last summer’s blockbuster releases included Monster-in-Law and Batman Begins, both inadvertently pitched at gay audiences. In the
first, we got to watch Jane Fonda as a controlling Barbara Walters type do everything in her power to subvert the seemingly innocent
Jennifer Lopez, who played Fonda’s impending daughter-in-law. In the second, Warner Bros. boldly recreated their moribund comic
book franchise, thanks to a fresh approach and major gay eye candy in the role of the caped crusader, Christian Bale.
Now we get two of this summer’s most anticipated releases – The Devil Wears Prada and Superman Returns – and again both movies
are inadvertently pitched at gay audiences. In Prada, we get to watch Meryl Streep as a controlling Anna Wintour type do everything
in her power to subvert the seemingly innocent Anne Hathaway, who plays Streep’s new assistant. In the second, Warner Bros.
boldly recreates their moribund comic book franchise, thanks to a fresh approach and major gay eye candy in their inspired choice
for the role of the original caped crusader, Brandon Routh.
Is it any wonder that audiences will experience more than a smidgen of déjà vu when watching these two pictures?
No and this isn’t exactly groundbreaking news for movies in general and summer blockbusters in particular. At some point, many,
many of these pictures are bound to congeal in the mind. Prada alone combines Working Girl, Mommie Dearest, Ever After and all
those other spins on Cinderella for starters while Superman Returns, naturally, evokes the 1978 screen adaptation (down to the
inspirational, striking John Williams theme), and manages to toss in portions of nearly every disaster movie of the past five years as
well (not unlike The Day After Tomorrow). There’s even a spectacular yacht sinking, a sort of mini-Titanic. But though both these
movies feel very familiar, it’s the kind of familiarity that’s welcomed. This is, after all, what Hollywood seems to do best.
The appeal of the based on a best seller The Devil Wears Prada for gay audiences is in the tacit Mommie Dearest relationship
between Streep in a frosty white wig as the frosty gorgon fashion editor Miranda Priestly and her Christina Crawford like assistant,
Andrea “Andy” Sachs (Anne Hathaway). Hathaway’s character has the same inner strength and quiet defiance that was the starting
point for all the onscreen battles between Faye Dunaway and Diana Scarwid, as Crawford and daughter, in Mommie Dearest. But
Streep’s character is much more controlled, much deadlier than Dunaway’s Crawford. She never raises her voice, rattles off her
instructions to her lackeys in machine gun like fashion, and brooks no dissent of the minutest possibility. The two control freaks are
very much sisters under the skin. Dunaway’s Crawford raged when the control slipped while Streep, in a few brief moments, displays
a human crack in the flinty veneer of this dreadful woman when the same happens. That she humanizes this sophisticated witch
beyond camp is, like Dunaway, a testament to Streep’s superior acting skills.
Hathaway, playing a recent college journalism graduate who doesn’t really want the job as Streep’s assistant in the first place (but
does want the promised writing connections), begins as an innocent in the area of fashion but very capable nevertheless.
Unsurprisingly, she will quickly blossom and rise to the challenge of Streep’s increasingly preposterous demands (and become a
threat in the process, All About Eve like, to the other assistant played by Emily Blunt, so memorable in last year’s seductive lesbian
romance, My Summer of Love).
The transformation includes, ala Working Girl and Hathaway’s own The Princess Diaries, a sartorial makeover (the actress wears 70+
costumes). This is presided over by the gay art director character (played with typical, welcome expertise by Stanley Tucci) and the
clothes, designed by “Sex and the City’s” Patricia Field, are spectacular. They are the kind of costumes that could only be called
“movie couture” – the modern day equivalent of the outrageous clothes that Theodora Runkle designed for Lucille Ball in Mame, that
Edith Head adorned Shirley MacLaine with in What a Way to Go! These are clothes, like those sported by Rene Russo in The Thomas
Crown Affair and the characters in Altman’s fashion fiasco, Ready to Wear, that fashionistas and drag queens will swoon over.
But the movie, predictable as fashion designers changing hemlines from season to season, is not nearly as fun: after Hathaway’s
character has had the makeover and triumphs, she will need to be seduced by the sick, venal, soulless world of fashion, and finally
return to the “real world” and perhaps the waiting arms of her boyfriend, Nate (played by HBO’s “Entourage” star, Adrian Grenier). All
this is in true Diana Ross/Mahogany fashion. Prada doesn’t have the camp sensibility of that dreadful, fabu-lush “epic” (can’t WAIT
for that DVD), which is slightly disappointing. It sounds perverse, but Prada is too well directed (David Frankel is a “Sex & the City”
veteran), written and acted for camp enshrinement. You’re not going to overhear a lot of lines quoted at the bars, ala Valley of the
Dolls, from The Devil Wears Prada. In the film’s first run that could be a bonus but down the road let’s hope that a deleted,
“confrontation” scene like the one between Crawford and Shearer in The Women surfaces. Wouldn’t it be fun to see Hathaway
proclaiming “Her hair’s as phony as she is!” while flushing Streep’s snowy white wig down the john? Keep your manicured fingernails
Something else to dream about, frankly, is one Brandon Routh. I don’t think the producers of Superman Returns could have
found a more perfect actor to step into the role of the superhero so strongly identified with the late Christopher Reeve. The
statuesque Routh, with his comic book proportions, gentle voice, and polite manor eerily suggests Reeve (down to the dimpled
chin). Routh is more muscular (all the better to please today’s audiences – gay and straight) which is a much closer 3-D
approximation of the comic book drawings of Superman. But unlike Reeve, Routh’s Superman doesn’t get nearly such a fun
Kate Bosworth doesn’t have close to the klutzy braininess (or sexiness) of Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane, nor does Kevin Spacey have
the hammy fun with super villain Lex Luthor that Gene Hackman did. Spacey plays Luthor in his typical clenched jaw, contemptuous
manner which has really worn thin and doesn’t explain why such an intolerant egotist would have Parker Posey (wearing a Barbra
Streisand Star is Born curly afro) as a sidekick. The hunky henchman I understood but not the Parker Posey character (who Spacey
barely bothers to acknowledge and tries to kill at one point). No one wondered what Hackman’s Luthor was doing with Valerie
Perrine, who played his dimwitted but luscious sidekick.
The picture covers much of the turf of the 1978 original and its sequel but reconfigures it (and it’s thrilling and eerie to hear Marlon
Brando’s voice over as Jor-El, Superman’s father). We are told via a screen crawl that when Superman caught a whiff of his former
planet amongst the cosmos, he took off to explore the remains. Upon his return, his beloved Lois has taken up with another (also
a beauty, James Marsden, who plays the nephew of newspaper editor Perry White, essayed by Frank Langella) and for the balance of
the picture we are saddled with a tired quasi-love triangle (naturally, in my mind it was Marsden that Routh was mooning over –
much more interesting). This wends around a special effects laden fiendish Dr. Evil sort of plot that revolves, in Donald Trump
fashion, around real estate (!) cooked up by Spacey’s Luthor.
The end result, photographed in steel blues, grays, and browns to flatter Superman’s red cape, moves along nicely, aided by gay
director Bryan Singer’s sure pacing and John Ottman’s melodic score that pays homage to John Williams original (it includes a
creative nod to Williams’ “Can You Read My Mind” love theme). A plot development leading to the climax of the picture is quite
unbelievable and the ending is dragged out (to say the least) but all in all, Warner Bros. can breathe a sign of relief. They’ve
successfully reinvented their man of steel.
Chicago Film Series of Note: Speaking of spectacular shapes, 50s sex siren Jayne Mansfield, so amply displayed in 1956’s The Girl
Can’t Help It and 1957’s Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? is featured along with 11 other comedies (including several Jerry Lewis
vehicles) and 12 cartoons by director Frank Tashlin as part of a month long tribute to the director called Thoroughly Modern Tashlin: the
Comedies and Cartoons of Frank Tashlin. The series kicks off July 1st with Tashlin’s first film, 1952’s domestic comedy The First Time
and plays for a month at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Several of the films (including the two Mansfield comedies) will be shown in
restored 35mm prints and Shawn Beltson, 20th Century Fox’s VP of film preservation, will be on hand at the July 22nd screening of
Rock Hunter to talk about the restoration and Tashlin’s career. Complete schedule and ticket information at www.siskelfilmcenter.
com or by phoning 312-846-2600.
Oh SO Gay:
The Devil Wears Prada-Superman Returns
EXPANDED EDITION of 6-28-06 Knight at the Movies/Windy City Times Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.