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The Devil Wears Prada

The Devil Wears Prada

arrives on the screen with a built in buzz factor. It's based on Lauren Weisberger's bestselling book that offered a thinly veiled account of her hellish year as an assistant to

Vogue

editor Anna Wintour. Although the book had a lukewarm critical reception, it drew millions of readers with its catty behind the scenes look at the fashion and publishing world, and its savage portrait of a temperamental, overly demanding boss. The film tones down the book's vitriolic tone and softens the characters to better fit a Hollywood summer comedy.

In an unusual marketing move, the trailer for the film offered a condensed version of the opening scene rather than a rapidly cut summary of the entire movie with all the best bits thrown in. But that opening scene is a great hook. It has the frumpily dressed Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) arriving for a job interview at the top fashion magazine Runway. Emily (Emily Blunt), the assistant who meets her, thinks this is some joke that human resources is playing on her. When Runway editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) arrives, she's intrigued by the misfit applicant who has never heard of her and knows nothing of the fashion world. On a whim or maybe in a sadistic move to see the young woman squirm, Miranda hires her and Andy's servitude begins. She has to fetch coffee, answer the phones and attend to Miranda's every whim including getting a copy of the unpublished Harry Potter manuscript for Miranda's twin daughters to read. Andy wants to be a serious journalist but she's lured into the Runway job by the prospect of networking and getting something good to put on her resume. But the question is how long can she survive?

The Devil Wears Prada has one thing going for it: Meryl Streep. Her Miranda Priestly is a delicious creation. Speaking in calm, soft tones that belie the venom beneath, Streep's Priestly is always impeccably coifed and clothed. She is a woman who has made it to the top and isn?t about to give up her power any time soon. She is the eye of a hurricane as all those working for her whirl around her in a mad frenzy. In an odd way she reminded me of Paul Sorvino's mob boss in Goodfellas . The first time we meet Sorvino's character, the narrator describes him as someone who moves slow because he doesn?t have to move for anyone. That's Miranda Priestly. She can be calm and quiet because everyone else will do the running around, and everyone will fall silent to hear whatever command she may whisper under her breath. Streep conveys the steely power and control Priestly wields but she also reveals intelligence and a knowing sense of what she's given up in order to be successful.

But the film falters when it comes to Hathaway's character of Andy Sachs. Hathaway plays her as all sweetness and innocence, and that interpretation (which is encouraged by director David Frankel and screenwriter Aline Bosh McKenna) just doesn't make sense. Sachs claims that she's smart and learns fast but then why would she arrive at an interview and not even know the name of the person she would be working for? A smart journalist would have at least found that out. Then to please Priestly and to keep the job that she claims to despise, she allows herself to be transformed from frumpy to fashionable. This transformation happens too easily, and seems to occur more because the film wants to flaunt clothes and accessories than because it?s a credible way for her character to develop.

As Hathaway plays Sachs, the transformation also occurs too passively as if Sachs has no say in it, she's just letting someone give her a make over. It would have been more believable and would reveal Sachs as more savvy if we saw her doing research about fashion and learning the fashion world and then remaking herself on her own. She needs to willingly reinvent herself to prove that she has ambition to do succeed at the job. The film could have also allowed her to create a fashion style of her own, one that revealed her personality and that allowed her to prove that brains rather than wearing something cute are the most important thing. The way her transformation plays out in the film is like a cliche, the duck turns into a swan and poof, everything starts to go her way. When Andy's boyfriend tells her to stop whining about her job and the clothes, it's an accurate assessment of her character and the situation. At some point she needs to own up to her ambition and take control of it and she never really does.

Frankel comes from directing the fashion conscious female driven cable show Sex in the City . He gives The Devil Wears Prada the same slick, well-dressed and well-groomed look. But the emotions are mostly hollow and he breathes little life into the predictable plot. The film could've used a more wicked sense of behind the scenes intrigue and politicking. Instead it wallows in tepid middle ground between comedy and light drama, finding neither the humor nor the emotional depth to tip it in one direction or the other. Frankel seems more interested in parading his actresses around in as many designer clothes as possible than in developing any nuance of character. This is a lovely fashion show for women who want to see those high fashion print ads come to life.

The Devil Wears Prada (rated PG-13 for some sensuality) gives us a glimpse into the fashion world and delivers a movie that would make a nice spread in a fashion magazine. Its one redeeming feature is Meryl Streep?s dressed to kill performance.

Companion viewing: Pret A Porte r, TV?s Absolutely Fabulous, Unzipped -----

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