Devil Wears Prada, The

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 06/30/06 00:30:39

"Damien . . .You Look Fabulous!"
3 stars (Just Average)

“The Devil Wears Prada” is a comedic morality tale about a sweet and innocent young woman who goes to work as an assistant for a monstrous boss and who becomes so swept up in her job that she begins to alienate her former friends while becoming the exact kind of person that she used to hate. This is a reliable enough premise for a movie–change the ages and pay structures of the main characters and you essentially have a better-dressed version of “Mean Girls”–but it never quite works because the boss never seems to be that hideous, the innocent lass never demonstrates any actual character or personality that she could be in danger of losing and when the boss dresses down the underling, I more often than not found myself siding with the boss. The result is a film that has a bunch of little things that work here and there but which never figures out a way to pull them all together in a funny or interesting manner.

Anne Hathaway stars as our innocent, Andy Sachs, a graduate from Northwestern University’s journalism school who has moved to New York City to pursue her career as a journalist. She gets an appointment at “Runway,” the world’s most important fashion magazine, for a position as the second assistant for famed and feared editrix Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep). Walking into the ultra-chic offices in her oh-so-sensible clothes and onion bagel-breath, first assistant Emily (Emily Blunt) immediately sneers that Andy might as well leave right then because she doesn’t have what it takes to make it at the magazine. However, Miranda winds up interviewing/interrogating Andy and, intrigued by the young woman’s lack of knowledge regarding the magazine or of the very subject of high fashion, she inexplicably gives Andy a job that she is repeatedly told that “a million girls would kill for.” Although she doesn’t particularly like Miranda, Andy accepts on the theory that if she can last a year in the position, she can pretty much get a job anywhere in the world of serious journalism.<

At first, Andy is little more than a glorified gopher fetching skirts and coffee but she isn’t even able to do that up to Miranda’s exacting standards and after making one serious faux pas, she is given a task so impossible (snaring a copy of the new and unpublished Harry Potter book) that it all but signals the end of her employment at the magazine. However, with the help of a hunky literary star (Simon Baker), Andy pulls off the task and with the help of Nigel (Stanley Tucci), the resident fashion expert/gay best friend with the snippy comments, she begins to fit in more comfortably with her surroundings. Eventually, Miranda begins to take her under her wing and begins bringing her up while knocking Emily down. This means longer hours for Andy and as a result, Andy’s boyfriend (Adrian Grenier) and best pal (Traci Thoms) begin complaining that she has changed and is becoming the kind of person that she used to hate. (Of course, they may just be confused and frightened since Andy appears to be the only one of them to have a real job in the first place.) While on a jaunt to Fashion Week in Paris, Andy becomes aware of a series of behind-the-scene maneuvers involving Miranda and the magazine and she is forced to decide whether to stick with her original ideals or to play along to get ahead in the way that reminds Miranda, as she informs Andy, of herself in her younger days.<

“The Devil Wears Prada” is based on a novel by Lauren Weisberger, who once worked at “Vogue” for the famed and feared editrix Anna Wintour. Much of the popularity of the book, a staple on the chick-lit circuit, came from people reading it and speculating as to exactly how many of the incidents were inspired by real life. Unfortunately, the snap of authenticity that can come from reading such thinly veiled “fiction” is lost in Aline Brosh McKenna’s screenplay, an adaptation where absolutely nothing feels at all realistic. Forget the fact that the film takes a decidedly PG-13 view of the fashion industry in which drugs and eating disorders are never even hinted at. Consider the fact that Miranda is supposed to be intrigued by the fact that Andy has apparently never heard of her or the magazine. If both are as well-known as they are supposed to be in the world of this film, I would wonder how someone could possibly graduate from the journalism program at Northwestern without hearing of them. Hell, I am as far from the target audience for “Vogue” as you can possibly get (since my daily sartorial tastes tend to be dictated solely by if an item is black, extra-large and not especially whiffy–not necessarily in that order) and even I could tell you who Anna Wintour is.<

Beyond that, the film also suffers from the fact that Miranda never seems to be especially nasty and Andy never seems to undergo that severe of a personality change. Although none of the people that I have personally worked for have ever been particularly nasty or high-maintenance, I have either heard tales of or observed in person plenty of horrorshow employers over the years and the Miranda of this film comes off as far too even-keeled and sensible to deserve comparison. I suspect that director David Frankel was too afraid of alienating members of the female professionals that are likely to make up the lion’s share of the audience to risk giving them a truly monstrous Miranda. We even get an odd scene in which we are allowed to see the character’s vulnerable side in front of Andy for a moment or two before she snaps back into her all-business mode–at first, it is interesting and a little startling because it allows us to see the human being behind the withering stare and cutting comments but it soon becomes evident that such a scene would never happen in real life and it exists only to show us the vulnerable side to indicate that she is a real person after all. As for Andy, she is such a vaguely defined character that when her friends begin to inform her of how much she has changed since working for Miranda, it comes as much of a shock to us than to her because outside of some fancier duds, she doesn’t seem to have been behaving differently at all.<

The thing that saves “The Devil Wears Prada” from utter pointlessness is that some of the performances are fun to watch. As Miranda, Meryl Streep makes the correct choice to play the character not as a screaming blowhard but as someone who realizes that truly powerful people don’t need to yell in order to be heard and feared–she makes the character into someone who seems to have based her approach to wardrobe on Cruella de Ville and her approach to business on Michael Corleone (and it is amusing to note that Streep has been given a hairdo that uncannily suggests both). And while the character of Andy is not particularly interesting or engaging on her own, Anne Hathaway is an actress who has a presence that is so cheerful and endearing that it is easy to follow her along even as she dithers through the streets of Paris about whether to remain true to her lunky boyfriend or to fall under the spell of the hunky author. Among the supporting players, Stanley Tucci scores a lot of laughs as the snarky commentator (and even gets a couple of moments of quiet truth later on) and Emily Blunt (who starred in “My Summer of Love,” one of the best movies that you didn’t see last year) is a scream as the assistant who has literally devoted her entire life to the lifestyle Miranda represents and is driven to distraction by this ungainly usurper.

These actors are good but they are the kind of performers who are always interesting to watch but it is a little dispiriting to see them going through the motions with material that is clearly substandard. Watching them here is a little like going to see a group of piano virtuosos in concert only to find them doing nothing but scales and songs like “Heart and Soul” for two solid hours–sure, they can do them and do them well but we want to see them attacking something a little more challenging for our time and money. Other than that, there isn’t really much of anything else to take away from “The Devil Wears Prada” unless you are a confirmed clotheshorse, in which case you will no doubt act like the women sitting behind me at the screening who kept commenting about how much they loved the various purses and shoes. Funny, I don’t recall them saying anything about the actual film.

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