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.
Later 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). Director: David Frankel. Screenplay: 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
‘The Devil Wars Prada’ Awards & Nominations
Unless otherwise stated, all awards/nominations for The Devil Wears Prada are for the year 2006.
Academy Awards: 2 nominations (best actress, Meryl Streep; best costume design, Patricia Field)
American Cinema Editors: 1 nomination (best edited feature film, comedy or musical, Mark Livolsi)
Boston Society of Film Critics: Runner-up for best supporting actress (Meryl Streep)
British Academy Awards: 6 nominations (best actress, Meryl Streep; best supporting actress, Emily Blunt; best adapted screenplay, Aline Brosh McKenna; best costume design, Patricia Field; best make-up and hair; rising star, Emily Blunt)
Broadcast Film Critics Association: 2 nominations (best actress, Meryl Streep; best comedy)
Central Ohio Film Critics Association: Runner-up for best actress (Meryl Streep)
Chicago Film Critics Association: 1 nomination (best actress, Meryl Streep)
Costume Designers Guild: 1 nomination (best costume design, contemporary film, Patricia Field)
Dallas-Ft. Worth Film Critics Association: Third place for best actress (Meryl Streep) and fifth place for best supporting actress (Emily Blunt)
Golden Globes: 1 win (best actress - comedy or musical, Meryl Streep);
- 2 additional nominations (best film - comedy or musical; best supporting actress, Emily Blunt)
London Film Critics’ Circle: 2 wins (best actress, Meryl Streep; best British supporting actress, Emily Blunt)
Los Angeles Film Critics Association: One of the runners-up for best supporting actress (Meryl Streep)
National Board of Review: One of the year’s top-ten films
New York Film Critics Circle: Third place for best actress (Meryl Streep)
Online Film Critics Society: 1 nomination (best actress, Meryl Streep)
Satellite Awards: 2 wins (best actress - comedy or musical, Meryl Streep; best costume design, Patricia Field);
- 1 additional nomination (best film - comedy or musical)
Screen Actors Guild: 1 nomination (best actress, Meryl Streep)
St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association: 1 nomination (best supporting actress, Meryl Streep)
Vancouver Film Critics Circle: 1 nomination (best supporting actress, Meryl Streep)
Writers Guild of America: 1 nomination (best adapted screenplay, Aline Brosh McKenna)