The Devil Wears Prada is one of those films that just sort of sits there as you watch it. The successful and funny moments are negated by an equal amount of dull patches and dumb script moves.
Meryl Streep has fun as Miranda Priestly, the nasty-as-heck editor of Runway magazine, a Harper’s Bazaar-type fashion rag. She’s fired her last two new assistants and seeks more cannon fodder. Enter Andy (Anne Hathaway), who aspires to be a journalist but would rather work an inane, non-journalistic job at Runway instead of a car magazine. When she shows up for an interview in street clothes, she’s maliciously teased by Emily (Emily Blunt), Miranda’s senior assistant, and pretty much any snooty employee who sees her in the hallway.
When Miranda spies Andy, with her frumpy hair and flat shoes, she sees a change from the norm and decides to give her a shot. Rather than scooping stories and editing copy, Andy is answering the phone, booking flights for Miranda and retrieving her Starbucks. When it’s made clear to her by fellow employee and mentor by default, fashion director Nigel (Stanley Tucci), that she’s not really, really trying to do the job, Andy decides to sell out and become a fashion whore.
She changes her hair, wears the fancy shoes and loses some weight, transforming herself from an honorable sort to a selfish workaholic. Her boyfriend Nate (Adrian Grenier of Entourage) mopes because he’s basically a selfish bastard, who isn’t willing to take one for the team while his girl struggles through a tough gig. Grenier is a good actor, but he’s saddled with the typical whiny beau role.
Streep has some sinister fun as the soulless Miranda, and it’s regrettable she doesn’t get more screen time (she’s almost a supporting player). The movie works best when it focuses on her because Streep has command of her role even when the script cops out. Hathaway is required to carry the picture, and she’s not up to the task. She seems like a sitcom-type performer to me, one who relies on exaggerated looks and gestures. She’s likeable and talented in a way but lacks the depth to qualify her as a great actress.
Director David Frankel doesn’t seem to know if he’s making a very mean, scathing satire of the cutthroat fashion magazine industry or an uplifting saga of a young woman going through growing pains in New York. The film works best when it’s mean and when Streep’s character is allowed to be relentlessly evil. The character of Miranda doesn’t need a final decent act to redeem her, yet the script gives her one. There comes a point in the movie where the film is striving for sympathetic, feel-good moments, and it feels false.
The movie is at its most ridiculous when Miranda tells Emily to get the latest, unpublished Harry Potter book for her twin girls. It’s the sort of silly crap that takes you out of a film that seems to be dealing in realistic terms. A lowly assistant seriously trying to find J.K. Rowling’s latest before it is even printed is just a crock.
If you are a fan of the book, or you love pretty dresses, you’ll be just fine with The Devil Wears Prada. It’s almost worth seeing for the Streep performance, but that performance is also a little frustrating because the picture surrounding it is so inferior. The movie seems to be afraid of itself, as if scared to stay true to its nasty heart.
In the end, what starts as a bitingly funny look at workaholics winds up being rather sappy. As for Hathaway, Princess Diaries 3: Eat My Tiara beckons.