Give this “Devil” her due
Meryl Streep is a peerless actress whose breadth of work and longevity in a business that idolizes youth and beauty speaks for itself. Her career didn’t need a film like “The Devil Wears Prada,” but we should be thankful she chose to be in it. Does that mean the film would be awful without her? Not necessarily. It may be a watered-down adaptation of Lauren Weisberger’s scathing commentary on the fashion business, and Streep’s presence looms large but “Prada” is a fascinating, revealing and quite satisfying journey for its own sake.
It’s also a coming out of sorts for young actress Anne Hathaway (“The Princess Diaries,” “The Other Side of Heaven”), who with a little luck and some good coaching could be on her way to a stellar career herself.
Hathaway, with dark eyes the size of Oreo cookies and an arresting genuineness that reminds one of the great Audrey Hepburn, stars as recent Northwestern graduate Andy Sachs looking for a career break. For someone with aspirations to serious journalism, she finds an unlikely opportunity working as an assistant for the malevolent, powerful editor of Runway magazine, Miranda Priestly (Streep).
Coifed in a short, silver ‘do and speaking in tones at once clipped and cutting, Miranda is insensitive, demanding, and utterly compelling to watch in action. Andy, who turned down Stanford law school, is too much of an achiever to let the drudgery of being a glorified gofer get to her. She soon realizes– primarily through the caring counsel of the magazine’s swishy art director (nailed by Stanley Tucci)–that Miranda may be the devil in a new dress, but she knows her couture and has more influence than Chanel has boots.
In a movie that is based on a business filled with phony people pushing overpriced products worn by ridiculously thin models, “The Devil Wears Prada” is anything but superficial. There are occasional humorous moments, mostly provoked by the scathing tongue of the vicious yet somehow human Miranda, a tribute to Streep’s grace and comic timing.
The real joy and poignancy of “Prada” are found in the questions the film asks Andy to ask herself, namely: Isn’t hard work with its disagreeable duties part of “paying your dues?” How far do I change myself (not just my wardrobe-which Andy eventually does to stunning effect) to accommodate my profession? And what sacrifices am I willing to make to get ahead?
There are moments when “Prada” can be evasive in answering these questions. But these subtly written scenes still turn out well. Instead of becoming a heavy-handed message movie, it stays true to its origins as a cautionary tale, and is more thought-provoking and ultimately more effective. The result is one of this year’s classiest, wittiest, and most refreshing films.
Fashion never looked so smart.
Rated PG-13 for language and sexual situations.