Devil Wears Prada, The (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The Devil Wears Prada is two films in one: a caustic, energetic satire of the fashion world and a cautionary melodrama. The first works; the second doesn't. Fortunately, the running time of the former doubles that of the latter, making The Devil Wears Prada more of a hit than a miss. In fact, even through some of the weaker parts, there are still strong performances by standouts Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, and Stanley Tucci.

The novel by Lauren Weisberger stirred the interest of the fashion industry and fashion-watchers, and caused many readers to play the game of trying to match fictional representations with their real-life counterparts. For those who aren't members of the fashion inner circle, the satire is obvious but some of its targets may not be. That doesn't diminish the enjoyability of the film, which is relentless in its cynical attitude toward a culture obsessed with style and an industry that wallows in self-importance.

Christopher Guest is one of a few directors who can allow satire to exist without the benefit of window dressing, but this isn't one of Guest's productions. Hollywood films - and The Devil Wears Prada is a member of that group - require characters and story arcs. That's where the film gets into trouble. For about 70 minutes, it bubbles along, lobbing grenades at various targets and tossing in multiple montages. Then the film gets serious. Its trite message - be true to yourself and your friends - rings false, and the cloying ending feels like it was written for another film then tacked onto the end of this one. When The Devil Wears Prada downshifts in tone from satire to melodrama, it's an uneven and unwelcome transition. Suddenly, the qualities that make the first two-thirds such sparkling entertainment, evaporate.

The Devil Wears Prada tells the story of Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway), a recently graduated journalism major who is applying for the job of second assistant to Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), the editor of Runway magazine. Runway is the most influential fashion magazine in the industry, and no one wields more power than Miranda. She is revered as a goddess by co-workers and competitors alike. Get a job working for her and stick it out for a year, and countless doors will open. This is what Miranda's current #1 assistant, Emily (Emily Blunt), is counting on. Others, like Nigel (Stanley Tucci), have become fixtures at Runway while waiting for their dream job to materialize.

When it comes to fashion, Andy has none. She is a size six ("Six is the new fourteen," quips Nigel) and wears frumpy clothing. Miranda hires her on a whim, hoping that Andy's smarts will compensate for her lack of dress sense. It's not a promising beginning. Andy despises the shallowness of those who work at Runway and ridicules them to her boyfriend, Nate (Adrian Grenier), and her friends. Then something starts to happen. Like Anakin Skywalker, Andy is seduced by the dark side of the force, and becomes a loyal subject to Emperor Miranda.

It's amazing how much more alive the film is when it's concentrating on Andy's job. Her personal life and out-of-work relationships are boring. There's irony here, because the film's ultimate message is that no business is so important that it should trump interpersonal interests, yet The Devil Wears Prada comes alive within the walls of the Runway building. I wonder if director David Frankel (an HBO veteran who has helmed episodes of Entourage and Sex in the City) is aware of the mixed message his film is delivering.

Anne Hathaway gives a vanilla performance. She has little presence and tends to blend in with the scenery. Despite being the supposed lead, she is upstaged by supporting performers. Meryl Streep gets top billing but has less screen time; nevertheless, her humanized Cruella De Vil dominates scenes. Emily Blunt, who made an impression in My Summer of Love, is rarely outshone, nor is Stanley Tucci. When Streep, Blunt, and Tucci are together, the scene crackles with energy. When none of them are present, The Devil Wears Prada slips into a black hole. Fortunately, such instances are rare.

On balance, I enjoyed the film, despite the whiny final half hour and the artificial conclusion. (Whatever happened to hard-edged endings in satires?) I recognize that the film is being marketed toward women, but I see no reason why men can't enjoy what The Devil Wears Prada offers. The kind of corporate culture that comes under assault by Frankel isn't isolated to the fashion industry; viewers might be surprised at the universality of some of the targets. With so many "loud" movies opening in multiplexes, it's refreshing to find something that provides a change of pace.

Devil Wears Prada, The (United States, 2006)

Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2006-06-30
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1