Directed by: David Frankel
Starring: Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, Adrian Grenier, Simon Baker
Viewed dispassionately, this probably ought to get decked at least a half-star for plot predictability alone. I mean, here's the pitch :Awkward journalism grad Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) comes to the big city where she lands a job as personal assistant to high-powered fashion magazine editrix Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), despite the fact that she knows nothing about fashion. Her idea of haute couture doesn't extend beyond the sale rack at K-Mart, and Chapstick is her lip-gloss of choice. (Alright, so you wonder why Andy has carefully plucked eyebrows, but cut the thing some glamour slack.)
Will she make the grade? Will her ideals be compromised? Will she alienate her "real friends" along the way? Will she miss her boyfriend's (Adrian Grenier, Anything Else) birthday party? Will she see the error of her ways and learn, as W.C. Fields once said, "The city ain't no place for women, gal, but pretty men go thar"? (I don't really know what that means either, but it feels right.) If you miss even one of those questions, your movie-going license should be revoked.
On this basis, The Devil Wears Prada is no great shakes. It contains nothing surprising and a rather large quantity of formulaic writing. However, there are other aspects of a movie that sometimes more than take up the slack from such shortcomings, and that's the case here.
Lacking much in the way of substance -- or mistaking easy bromides about integrity for substance -- the film nonetheless boasts several qualities. It has beautifully bitchy barbed banter, an appealing veneer of wit, three terrific performances (Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci, and Emily Blunt), one appealingly game try of a performance (Anne Hathaway), and style for days from director David Frankel. Goodness knows, all that counts for something.
And it counts for even more if you look around at what has been palmed off as comedy in recent months. The mere fact that the film is bereft of even one flatulence or scatological gag earns it a place in heaven. Of course, such oversights -- along with the lack of a sex-crazed dog -- may baffle younger viewers, who have been trained to believe that Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey are comedic gods. No matter, since they have the latest Wayans Brothers opus, Little Man, to look forward to on July 14 (is this a deliberate insult to the French on Bastille Day?). Instead of such, The Devil Wears Prada offers the viewer something a little more -- dare I say it? -- adult.
The bewhiskered basics of the young innocent having her eyes opened by exposure to the real world falls into insignificance when put up against the surprising complexity of characterization of those who inhabit that world. At the top of this list, of course, is Meryl Streep's Miranda Priestly.
The fun in Streep's performance may come from her quietly dismissive "that's all" that concludes every audience she grants, and from her show of truly uncomprehending amazement that those around her can't measure up to her generally unreasonable demands ("Why is that so hard?"). Nevertheless, there's always the hint of more to her. Always ready with a well chosen barb and a sense of being above everything and everyone, Priestly -- thanks to both the script and Streep's playing -- is ultimately considerably more than the "dragon lady" she at first seems. There are layers to Priestly that emerge slowly -- in one case bravely on Streep's part -- as the film progresses. Neither the movie nor Streep ever loses sight of the fact that she very much is a "dragon lady," but she is shrewdly developed into one fully conscious of the fact and the price she's paid -- and must continue to pay -- for her success. Moreover, it's a price she considers worth paying, or at least she's convinced herself of that.
Stanley Tucci's Nigel is more stereotypical, especially in his capacity as gay mentor to our fashion challenged heroine, but even there -- consider the scene where he points out to Andy that she doesn't really try and yet likes to consider herself better than everyone else -- we're offered a little something extra. The same is true for Emily Blunt's character, Emily. Lacking much in the way of depth, Emily mostly scores for amusement value, yet there are still shadings to her that make her more than strictly comic.
Unfortunately, most of these layers do not exist in Andy herself. The film attempts them, but the formula constantly undermines the attempts, because there's never any genuine surprise to the character. She does exactly what you expect, exactly when you expect it. That the character works at all is mostly due to Anne Hathaway, who is not only naturally likable, but comes to have a radiance comparable to Audrey Hepburn in Stanley Donen's 1957 musical Funny Face in the latter portions of the film.
The subordinate characters in her life don't help matters. Her perpetually-in-need-of-a-shave boyfriend (maybe we only see him every third day) is a prig and a stiff -- and for a chef can't even seem to make an unburnt grilled cheese sandwich. The others in her circle aren't much better, coming across as half-hearted imitations of the eccentrics in the title character's sphere in Bridget Jones's Diary. But in the overall scheme of the film, these things are almost -- almost -- swept away by all the things about the film that do work, and work well. Rated PG-13 for some sensuality.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke