The only impression most people have of legendary Vogue editor Anna Wintour comes from Meryl Streep’s portrayal of a fictionalized version of her in The Devil Wears Prada. The pop-culture caricature of Wintour may create unrealistic expectations for R.J. Cutler’s documentary The September Issue, which goes behind the scenes of the creation of Vogue’s massive September 2007 issue (September being the biggest month of the year in the fashion industry). The real Wintour isn’t the gleefully cruel villain of Devil, although she’s still plenty icy and imperious: Despite the time he spends with Wintour, Cutler almost never gets under her skin, and he doesn’t have Meryl Streep to conveniently provide a moment of vulnerability when he needs one.
Cutler finds a more worthwhile subject in Grace Coddington, the magazine’s creative director and a veteran staffer who started the same day as Wintour. Through her, Cutler is able to take an often riveting nuts-and-bolts look at what goes into creating the monstrosity that is the Vogue September issue, and it’s a shame that he isn’t more focused on the procedural, because that’s the movie’s greatest strength, almost making up for what it lacks in insights into Wintour’s personality.
Wintour does reveal one crack in her facade, when talking about how her family views her job, but otherwise she shows the movie’s level of interest in her to be unwarranted. Like the recent Valentino: The Last Emperor, about iconic fashion designer Valentino Garavani, September shows off a lot of pretty clothes, but not much under them.