If I said the name Emily Blunt to you, what would you think of? Do you think of the way she’s carving a pretty good name for herself in action movies as a woman? The fact that she’s married to John Krasinski and they’ve somehow both become the luckiest person ever?
I think of The Devil Wears Prada.
The 2006 movie, based on the novel of the same name by Lauren Weisberger, takes a satirical look at the world of fashion, through the lens of fictional fashion magazine Runway. Headed by the dragon of an editor-in-chief that is Miranda Priestley (played by Meryl Streep and supposedly based on Anna Wintour), the film charts young dowdy Andy’s (Anne Hathaway) move from unimpressed, to sucked in, to horrified at what she has become as she attempts to make it through the world of fashion.
But for me, the character that perfectly encapsulates that world of high heels and cutting collarbones is Miranda’s original assistant Emily (Emily Blunt).
In one of her very first film roles, Blunt’s portrayal perfectly walks the line between making us laugh at the ridiculousness of her character’s desires, but also making us feel intensely sorry for her when they’re snatched away from her. It’s a fine balance to get right. Blunt’s skilful comic timing, matched with the carefully moderated flickers across her face of everything from disdain to being absolutely crushed, makes what could have been a cartoony bitch character into something much more well-rounded. The hints at the anorexia that many women in the fashion industry suffer could easily have been presented in a mocking way, but Blunt plays it just right. As she puts it herself, “in humour you find vulnerability.”
What’s even better is the approach that Blunt took to the role. She had a contest with Stanley Tucci to see who could overact the most, and told MTV “I won hands down”. And the fabulous moment she shuts Andy down with a “I’m hearing this… and I want to be hearing this” was something she saw a mum saying to their child in a supermarket. This soaking up of real life and people demonstrates just what a good observational actor she is.
The cool, calm and collected disdain when talking to Andy and the absolute desperation when Miranda enters the building are not only perfectly matched as tail ends of a character spectrum, they also never outweigh each other in their deft handling as comic moments.
Emily as a character does one of the most important things in the film: she makes us care about the fashion world. It’s so easy to dismiss it as fatuous and shallow, but Emily is the fashion world encapsulated. We can see that she’s given up everything – including normal meals – to get to where she is, and when that’s taken away from her it is, as handled skilfully by Blunt, a bit heartbreaking. It’s a role that could easily have been a caricature, but Blunt delivers it not only with care but with expert comic timing, something which set her up well for the rest of her career.
And those of us still waiting for a sequel? I don’t think it will happen; but we’ll always have the Lip Sync Battle.