Few human endeavors are as inherently worthless as the fashion industry. While there are plenty of more popularly maligned activities (stock car racing, arena football, movie criticism), fashion deserves special censure specifically for its elitism. Haute couture exists solely to provide another stratum of separation between the idle rich and the teeming masses who can’t afford to shop at Dolce & GabbaGabbaHey (or whatever) and choose to read magazines with actual articles in them.
From that perspective, “The Devil Wears Prada” should be the most insufferable movie ever released. The fact that it isn’t and – to the contrary – is actually one of the better comedies I’ve seen this year speaks volumes for the quality of the performances and the caliber of the script.
As well as the generally dismal state of comedy, but best not to dwell on that.
Loosely based on Lauren Weisberger’s novel of the same name, the film follows the brief tenure of Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway), a struggling journalist who unexpectedly finds herself hired as an assistant to Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), head editor of Runway magazine. Miranda hires Andrea more as a slap in the face to her current head assistant than out of any respect for Andrea’s writing skills or sympathy for her lack of fashion sense. Miranda is a stereotypically nightmare boss, the kind who makes impossible demands (copies of the unpublished Harry Potter manuscript for her kids) and insists that her underlings be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and quickly makes the girl’s life a living hell.
Andrea resists initial assimilation, joking with her boyfriend Nate (Adrian Grenier, unkempt afro still intact) and pals about her dragon lady boss, but she eventually realizes – with the assistance of the magazine’s fashion director Nigel (Stanley Tucci) – that it’s easier to join forces with the powers of darkness than to fight them. As she grows more competent at her job, her grudging respect for Miranda increases at the expense of her friendships and her relationship with Nate. The attentions of a semi-famous writer (Simon Baker) don’t help matters, and Andrea has to choose between a thankless yet high profile job with Runway or the less stressful and more boring life of a regular working gal.
Okay, so the story’s not what one would call complex. Weisberger’s tales of workplace horror have been streamlined and molded to fit a more traditional (read: predictable) narrative. The dragon lady herself has been defanged somewhat, assumedly to make our journey to the requisite happy ending more believable. That said, there are 2 ½ reasons to see this movie: Streep, who is majestically evil as Miranda; the refreshingly vicious script, which offers more bite than any recent comedy; and Stanley Tucci, who gets to deliver the good lines that aren’t Streep’s. Beyond all that, “The Devil Wears Prada” is a comedy that relies on dialogue and decent acting rather than such lofty comedy concepts as farting, fat guys in tights, or a dog humping a stuffed animal, and that’s a welcome change.