Take the swooping white hair and bad attitude of Cruella DeVille, mix in the people skills of Vlad the Impaler and you’ll get Miranda Priestly, the worst boss in all of moviedom. As played by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada Priestly, the editrix of a fictional fashion magazine called Runway, never met an assistant she couldn’t humiliate with a withering glance and a few choice words.
Rumor has it that she is based on all-powerful Vogue editor Anna Wintour who apparently uses assistants like the rest of us use toilet paper. In 2003 one survivor, Lauren Weisberger, extracted revenge on her former boss, writing a vaguely fictionalized account of her time spent working for the dragon lady of fashion. The Devil Wears Prada changed the names, exaggerated the stories and offered a scandalous look at the inner workings of a big-time New York fashion magazine.
In the movie version Anne Hathaway plays Andy Sachs, a fashion-impaired university grad who takes a job as Miranda’s assistant as a stepping-stone to her dream job of writing capital “J” journalism for The New Yorker. Courtesy of Miranda’s right hand man Nigel, Andy is given a high fashion makeover from the Jimmy Choo’s on up. Dripping in Dior she quickly becomes Miranda’s star assistant, eclipsing the ambitious, and supposedly firmly entrenched Emily. Andy soon learns that in Miranda’s fast paced world results are the only tings that matter. Other little details like personal relationships, dignity and self worth are secondary. The story is as thin as the models in the pages of Runway, but it is the characters that make this so much fun.
The Devil Wears Prada moves along at a nice clip when Streep, draped in Chanel and clutching the latest Marc Jacobs bag in her talons, is on screen. She gets the rare opportunity to show off her comedic side and seems to have devious fun with the character. She’s nasty, but of course Streep brings more to the role than vicious one-liners, (“The details of your incompetence do not interest me,” she says to a frazzled helper.), and evil eyes. She plays Miranda without a hint of weakness. Her marriage may be falling apart but she chose this life and is willing to accept the consequences no matter what the cost. She takes a one-dimensional character and turns her into the most interesting person on-screen.
Stanley Tucci as Nigel, Miranda’s long-suffering, but tough as nails sidekick and Emily Blunt as the snooty Assistant Number One are also perfectly cast and fun to watch. The least interesting character, Andy Sachs, has the most screen time, and while Anne Hathaway is charismatic and beautiful she gets slightly bowled over by the over-sized personalities of Streep, Tucci and Blunt.
The Devil Wears Prada only wears thin when the filmmakers indulge Hathaway’s inherent decency. By the time she decides that she doesn’t care about the glamour and glitz of the fashion world we don’t care either. Luckily the bulk of the movie is wicked fun.