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'The Devil Wears Prada' Movie Review: Meryl Streep Steals Show

Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, The Devil Wears Prada
Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, The Devil Wears Prada

There are two good reasons to watch the otherwise dismal film version of Lauren Weisberger's 2003 novel The Devil Wears Prada, the story of a young, comely journalist wannabe who lands a job as secretary to a world-class bitch fashionista. The two good reasons – unfortunately, neither of which have much on-screen time – are Meryl Streep, as the soft-spoken (but viper-tongued) queen bee of the fashion world, and Stanley Tucci, as the queen bee's snooty (but kind-hearted) lady-in-waiting who dreams of becoming a fashion queen herself. Apart from those two performers, all The Devil Wears Prada has to offer are tired clichés, unsubstantial acting, and a wardrobe that would befit wedding cakes and circus tents – but not human beings.

Considering the mess it later becomes, The Devil Wears Prada starts out surprisingly well. After a fast-paced montage of female New Yorkers getting ready for work to the sounds of KT Tunstall's “Suddenly I See,” we learn a little about Anne Hathaway's college grad journalist-turned-secretary, Andy Sachs, an ambitious, idealistic young woman whose unaffected Midwestern manner is her greatest charm.

The Devil Wears Prada by David FrankelLater on, Meryl Streep shows up doing a majestic Medusa impersonation that is as hilarious as it is vicious. Without ever raising her voice, Streep's Miranda Priestly uses her poisonous tongue to lash out at her subordinates, all of whom are eager to do whatever the boss wants because she wields the power of life and death over the denizens of the fashion world.

If looks could kill, Andy would have dropped dead moments after meeting Miranda. Come to think of it, that wouldn't have been such a bad thing, as The Devil Wears Prada would then focus on its lone gripping character: the all-powerful fashion magazine editor inspired by Vogue's Anna Wintour.

Instead, we get a number of pesky melodramatic clichés: office rivalries, dejected boyfriend (Adrian Grenier), suffering young career woman, suffering older career woman who can't keep at man at her side. Once those contrivances start raising their ugly heads, The Devil Wears Prada not only loses its pace, but also any modicum of honesty it might have had otherwise.

Eventually, Andy must choose between her old idealistic self, and her new blindly ambitious self. Does she want to end up like Miranda – rich, powerful, and without a man – or does she want to end up like a real journalist – broke, powerless, and with a cute boyfriend?

The film's chief problem apparently lies with the source material (which I haven't read), as Weisberger's semi-autobiographical novel is told through the eyes of the young journalist. For although director David Frankel and credited screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna (numerous other hands worked on the script) have humanized Streep's fashion queen, their focus and sympathies clearly lie with Andy.

Therefore, we are supposed to care for a whiny, subservient young woman whose motto is I Had No Choice – all the while making choices to move up the journalistic ladder no matter the cost to herself and to those around her. Andy's eagerness to bend over backwards to do exactly what her demanding boss wants – she even finds an advance copy of a precious-as-kryptonite Harry Potter book – makes her only more despicable.

Compounding matters, neither Frankel nor McKenna seem to make up their minds about the glitzy and glamorous world of high fashion: Are those people creating “art you can wear,” or are they arbitrary, arrogant, vacuous, and downright tasteless tastemakers whose success is based not on their talent but on their ability to lick the appropriate asses so they can sell themselves and their products to a clueless public?

Don't expect any answers from The Devil Wears Prada, whose makers believe that as long as their film offers a smug happy ending, film audiences won't care they've been watching something made out of cast-off rags. (If you want a truly scathing – and uproarious – look at the fashion world, check out the British TV series Absolutely Fabulous.)

The biggest loser in all this wishy-washiness is Anne Hathaway, for she is unable to transcend her character's poorly sketched inner angst; as a result, her initially charming heroine becomes tiresome rather quickly. Not helping matters are the clothes Andy must wear to show the fashion-conscious gals at the office that she can look as awful as the worst of them. Audrey Hepburn might – stress might – have been able to get away with wearing clothes appropriate for an S&M dungeon session; Hathaway just looks silly.

Once again, The Devil Wears Prada would have been a much better film had it focused on Meryl Streep's fashion editor. The woman may be a viper at work and a deflated balloon at home – Oh, it's so lonely for a woman at the top! – but at least she doesn't pretend to be someone she isn't in order to gain our sympathy.

Note: A version of this The Devil Wears Prada review was initially posted in July 2006.

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (2006). Dir.: David Frankel. Scr.: Aline Brosh McKenna; from Lauren Weisberger's novel. Cast: Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci, Emily Blunt, Adrian Grenier.

2 Academy Award Nominations

Best Actress: Meryl Streep

Best Costume Design: Pat Field


         
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4 Comments to 'The Devil Wears Prada' Movie Review: Meryl Streep Steals Show

  1. the queen

    i love this movie not only for streep's brilliant performance but for anne's wonderful reactions to everybody reacting to her… reminds me of when i was a legal temp and believe me somebody should make a movie about that experience!

  2. Andre

    Well, I part ways with you when it comes to labeling “The Devil Wears Prada” a “brilliant” film.

    But perhaps we can agree that “Devil” would have been, shall we say, “brillianter,” had Meryl Streep had a role at least as big as Anne Hathaway's?

  3. natalie powers

    Andy Sach's was saying that she had no choice, when in fact she chose. Yes. This is made clear in the scene close to the end, where Streep and Hathaway are in the limo and Streep states that Hathaway had already chose to get ahead and make Emily suffer for it. Making the excuse that “she had no choice” merely expresses her naive character which was vital in making the film as brilliant and as interesting as it is.

  4. Marcus Tucker

    Well, apparently Streep's character was much more truthful than the rest of the film which I have yet to see. But I do know that Vogue editor Anna Wintour hath declared war upon St. Streep. Meryl won't be feautured in Vogue (as if she would have been anyway) because the character was too close to home for Wintour who was once Weisberger's coworker. Hathaway is a good actress but she frequently delves into cutesy when she is more than capable of handling dramatic roles. But since her success in the Princess Diaries I suppose she isn't quite yet willing to mess with the formula.