A boss-from-hell comedy set in the fashion world, “The Devil Wears Prada” is one-half smart satire and one-half formulaic mediocrity. Credit goes to its nefarious-waxing senior star for deliciously counterbalancing the soft-centered filmmaking that is laid on her junior counterpart, and for making this movie far more pleasurable than it should be.
While its source material (Lauren Weisberger’s fact-inspired novel) involves the adventures of a Vogue magazine underling, the film is less a parody of real-life subjects than a Hollywood recipe containing routine girl-meets-world elements and above-par queen-bee ones.
Wardrobe-challenged Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway), to bolster her aspiring-journalist resume, accepts a job as an assistant to Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), silver-haired monster-in-chief of a top fashion mag. “Disappointed” in previous assistants, Miranda decides that Andy, the size-6 “smart fat girl,” might work the miracles she demands, such as obtaining copies of the latest “Harry Potter” book for her daughters, prior to its publication.
Andy gets a makeover and starts delivering. Soon, she’s jeopardizing her soul.
Streep is sensational. Her Miranda is a trenchant portrait of a designer-clad despot who can slash a subordinate’s self-image to rags with a mere pursing of the lips or a vocal undertone. When the script calls for humanization, Streep stays keen. After providing an extra jolt of the sadness she’s been subtly suggesting in Miranda all along, she snaps back into terrorization mode.
But overall, this is a case of an extraordinary actor glowing in an ordinary movie. When Streep’s off-screen, conventionality prevails.
Director David Frankel (“Sex and the City”) gets the Manhattan tempo right, but he and screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna supply commonplace, contrived story material, complete with a hokey realization climax.
Hathaway, while likable, conveys little conflict in Andy. She never seems tainted as she wavers between her unpretentious old friends and her haughty fashion-scene cohorts and, in a particularly drab plot thread, between her down-to-earth sous chef beau (Adrian Grenier) and a well-connected writer (Simon Baker).
The film also falters by embracing the glitz it is purportedly skewering. Has Hathaway been made to look like a cover girl in order to illustrate Andy’s altered mind-set, or to hike the movie’s glamour quotient?
The supporting characters contain one minor standout, in theform of Miranda’s long-suffering design director, who’s played by the reliable Stanley Tucci, and one major one, that being Miranda’s psychically and calorically starved primary assistant, sharply portrayed by rising talent Emily Blunt.