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"THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA"
(2006) (Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A young woman becomes immersed in the fashion industry when she takes a job working for the demanding and feared editor in chief of an influential magazine.
PLOT:
Andy Sachs (ANNE HATHAWAY) is a recent college graduate who's moved to New York City with her boyfriend Nate (ADRIAN GRENIER) hoping to land a job in journalism. When that doesn't pan out, she manages to score a job interview at Runway, an influential fashion magazine run by Miranda Priestly (MERYL STREEP), the much feared but revered editor in chief who's known for being demanding and firing her assistants. Now second assistant Emily (EMILY BLUNT) has moved into the number one spot, leaving the second one open, but neither she nor fashion director Nigel (STANLEY TUCCI) think Andy is right for the job simply because she doesn't seem to care about fashion. In fact, she's never heard of Runway or Miranda, which is exactly what stirs the despot to hire her.

Andy is soon overwhelmed by Miranda's nonstop demands, a point that entertains her friends Lilly (TRACIE THOMS) and Doug (RICH SOMMER) who like all of the fashion goodies she brings them, but which doesn't sit well with Nate who starts to see less and less of her as the weeks go on. However, Andy eventually gets the hang of both the job and Miranda, leading to her traveling to Paris for a fashion event where she meets writer Christian Thompson (SIMON BAKER) who wants to sweep her off her feet.

Once assimilated into this business and lifestyle, Andy must then decide what she really wants out of life, meaning she must choose between the job, Nate, or possibly some other direction.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
I always joke with others who run their own businesses that as both bosses and employees of our companies, we can simultaneously complain about the task master who runs the place as well as the slacker who does the work, all without fear of any sort of reprisal. After all, you can't really fire yourself if you still have to be at the daily grind, while few beyond split personality specialists will care about any sort of suit you might file against yourself.

Of course, it hasn't always been this way and I've had plenty of bosses, both good and bad. Since most people are in the same boat, that can serve as a common denominator ("You think your boss is bad? Wait until you hear about mine," etc.) and that's why movies about the same are often popular or at least strike various sorts of nerves by treading in those very familiar waters.

Following in the footsteps of viewer favorites such as "9 to 5," "Working Girl" and "Office Space," "The Devil Wears Prada" sports the epitome of the boss from H-E-Double Hockey Sticks. She's demanding to the point of being a despot, when not being rude, condescending, mean, or just plain feared by everyone in the office. And that's the point driven home in the opening scene of this adaptation of Lauren Weisberger's hugely popular "chick lit" work of the same name.

As young Andrea "Andy" Sachs applies for a foot in the door job at the influential fashion rag "Runway," the bulletin goes out that the big boss is on her way up, with her arrival being much earlier than expected. Everyone goes into a panic, clearing their desks, applying makeup and basically acting as if they fear for their lives should anything not be perfect. Having never heard of the mag or editor in chief Miranda Priestly, Andy is perplexed yet humored by this reaction. That is, until she meets, yes you guessed it, Meryl Streep.

Not the lovely and seemingly quite friendly actress, of course, but the calmly stern and demanding boss she plays as if some distant cousin to Cruella de Vil. She's amused by Andy's lack of what she believes to be fashion sense, yet hires her for the very fact that she won't be kissing up to her every minute of the day. She might be bitchy, but she hasn't gotten to where she is by making bad choices.

And thus the scenario is established for the comedic clash between the neophyte and master, and the filmmakers -- director David Frankel and writer Aline Brosh McKenna -- really only have two ways to go with this setup. One is to take the "9 to 5" route where the rookie eventually has enough of the abuse and decides to get even or at least put the dictator in her place via some sort of cinematic comeuppance. While not exactly original, it's a path that's ripe with potential if handled just the right way. Unfortunately, that's not the route taken.

Instead, they go for the even more familiar storyline of the new employee being overwhelmed, finally getting the hang of the job and boss' demands, and then becoming assimilated into the workplace culture, all while eventually getting a glimpse that the boss is at least a bit human. And all of that comes at the expense of her friends and boyfriend who never see much of her now that she's always working such long hours, taking the nonstop calls and generally appearing -- in the eyes of the outsiders -- as an unrewarded slave (or as her ruffled boyfriend -- oh, the contrast to her now being fashionable -- says, "Someone's been drinking the Kool-Aid").

Accordingly, the screenplay offers few surprises, and if you've seen one film similar to this one, you'll have no problem guessing where it's headed or how the various character arcs will play out. Nor will you probably be terribly surprised to learn that various musical montages appear either to act as filler or to add some zip to the proceedings. Not that the film is often staid, what with Anne Hathaway (back in more innocent mode and familiar territory following "Brokeback Mountain") running around, appearing all harried while trying to carry out the boss' orders.

She's more than adequate in the role and engages us with her friendly demeanor, but it's -- not surprisingly -- Streep who steals the show. And the beauty of her performance is underplaying the viciousness of the character. Rather than the cartoon histrionics that fueled Glenn Close as the aforementioned fashionable puppy hater, Streep throws daggers with an icy look or a simple halting of her speech, all the better to hammer down her point. It's not her best nor most notable performance, but it's a juicy and subdued camp one that's quite fun to watch.

Which also holds true for Emily Blunt playing the veteran assistant who been sharpened by years of such abuse and can't believe she must work beside someone like the less refined and rather frumpy Andy. Of course, she has a human side as well, but she's most fun when she's letting loose with a 'tude that she obviously picked up from her boss.

In other supporting roles, Stanley Tucci is fine as the magazine's fashion director cum slight mentor/advisor to our protagonist, but Adrian Grenier can't do much beyond the obvious playing the boyfriend who grows apart from her. Simon Baker is presumably present as another love interest to conflict her and make boyfriend Nate even more jealous, but that subplot never really takes off.

Production and costume design is top-notch, and fans of fashion mags will probably be in hog -- make that haute heaven thanks to the work of Jess Gonchor and Patricia Field capturing the look and feel of those slick glossies. All pretty and dressed up but really with nowhere to go, the film benefits from the look as well as performances. I just wish the plot were as strong as the heels in those Jimmy Choos. "The Devil Wears Prada" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed June 22, 2006 / Posted June 30, 2006


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