THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (David Frankel, 2006)
Fresh out of j-school at Northwestern, Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) snags a choice job as assistant to the assistant of Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), the editor of top New York-based fashion magazine Runway. Working a year for Miranda supposedly opens doors to any number of jobs in the publishing world. The catch is that few possess the stamina and steel spine to withstand the indignity and withering criticism the boss from hell dispenses without batting an eye.
For a go-getter like Andy in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, it’s merely another challenge that hard work and a positive attitude can overcome; however, in Miranda’s office plucky spirits get plucked. Andy’s college education isn’t of much use when her main priorities are hanging up the coats tossed on her desk and catering to Miranda’s every whim, such as getting an immediate flight out of a city beset by a hurricane and obtaining the unpublished manuscript of the next Harry Potter novel because her bratty twin daughters want it. The work is menial, and Andy is always on call. She has little time for her boyfriend Nate (Adrian Grenier) or a social life of any kind. Support at the magazine is scarce with co-workers ranging from Miranda’s openly hostile assistant Emily (Emily Blunt) to Runway fashion director Nigel (Stanley Tucci), who lends a sympathetic ear yet advises Andy to toughen up or quit.
In superhero movies the protagonist is often not as interesting as the villain. The same is true in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA. Hathaway exudes Midwestern decency and friendliness as Andy, but the juicy role belongs to Streep. Miranda, clearly modeled on Vogue’s Anna Wintour, is delightfully monstrous. As if toting a ballpeen hammer in her couture handbag, she delivers blows to designers and employees with quick taps requiring the fewest words and slightest inflections. Streep plays Miranda subtly, not needing theatrics for the razorblade spitting she does to nick all of the unquestionably incompetent people around the character.
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA also gets an assist from the supporting players. Blunt, last seen in MY SUMMER OF LOVE, has fun as the highly stressed assistant who admires and fears her boss. Tucci adds some comedic sparkle by hamming it up a little, but like the film as a whole, the broadest qualities are never allowed to become too flashy.
In one of the film’s better moments Miranda explains how high fashion filters down to bargain store clothes. It’s illuminating for anyone who’s ever wondered how the most outrageous designs are relevant or impact the attire we buy. The catty competitiveness is omnipresent but sanitized. A biting look inside the fashion world this isn’t.
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA takes an amused view of how a good young woman could slowly abandon her values in pursuit of a career. Not surprisingly, Andy finds that what she was losing was greater than what she was gaining. To be sure, not everyone must throw away their principles or politeness to succeed, but some fields provide a stiffer test than others. Although it develops into a breezy cautionary tale, Andy’s trial by fire is really just an employment horror story laughed at once it’s fallen off the résumé.