The September issue of Vogue is the magazine’s most important, most
momentous issue of the year. And in the fashion world Vogue is like the
Bible, if the Bible kept updating the Ten Commandments and Beatitudes
on an annual basis. And the final author of that Bible – the Pope of
fashion, as she’s called in the film – is Anna Wintour. Even if you
don’t know fashion you probably know Anna Wintour – at the very least
you know Meryl Streep’s fictional version of her from The Devil Wears
Prada
. The idea of a documentary crew shadowing Wintour for the months
it takes to put the issue together is an intriguing one. Getting a look
behind the facade of the reigning ice queen of fashion would make for a
fascinating film.

Sadly, The September Issue never gets behind
the facade. Instead the film portrays Wintour as a looming figure in
the world of Vogue and fashion, getting us no closer to her than we
were when the film started. And even more disappointingly, the movie
never finds a real narrative arc; some of the figures around the Vogue
offices (including the film’s superstar, Grace Coddington) have
character arcs, but there’s never a feeling of narrative propulsion to
the process of putting together a magazine.

This problem is the
most frustrating, and probably the easiest to fix in post with some
judicious editing, voice over or a title card or two. Instead of
structuring the film around the creation of the magazine, RJ Cutler
(producer of The War Room) just lets the film float from scene to
scene, without a plot engine propelling anything. This makes the movie
feel formless and sort of endless, and like a feature made up of choice
scenes from a reality show (and is it so far-fetched to imagine a Bravo
show that chronicles life at a fashion magazine? I’m actually shocked
that this became a film and not a series).

There are a lot of
great scenes and moments and characters in the film, but they all feel
adrift and often unconnected. Editors and assistants come in and out of
the movie, but their positions and responsibilities aren’t always
delineated – at times the movie feels like it was made for people who
can recite the Vogue masthead from memory. Out of this mishmash arises
Grace Coddington, a former model who is now approaching 70 and who is
the secret creative force behind the magazine. Hired on the same day as
Wintour, Coddington seems to be the only person who will speak her mind
to the almost fascist editor, and watching her struggle with her friend
over the creative direction of the issue. There’s good drama here (for
a while I thought this storyline would end with Coddington finally
quitting Vogue after 20 years in America and 20 previous in Britain),
but it’s not the main focus of the movie, and so the film drift in and
out.



Most damning about the film is that I didn’t walk away feeling like I
had really learned anything about Vogue or the fashion world, and
believe me, there’s a lot I could learn. The film ends up feeling too
surface, never getting any real insight into Wintour, fashion or even
the process of putting together a magazine.

5.5 out of 10