WFTB Score: 11/20
The plot: Unassuming would-be writer Andy Sachs finds that her new job as second assistant to Runway magazine editor Miranda Priestly is a never-ending series of thankless tasks, though it is a role that thousands would apparently kill for. As Andy finds her feet and slips them into some very nice Jimmy Choos, she discovers that pleasing Miranda means sacrificing friendship, loyalty, and many of the values that she previously held dear.
If you imagine the fashion industry to be a snobbish, elitist clique filled with people who would happily stab their colleagues in the back with their gorgeous stiletto-heeled shoes and climb over their still-warm bodies to get on in the business, then this film will do nothing to convince you otherwise. The Devil Wears Prada sees fresh-faced newcomer Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway) entering the lair of Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), notoriously demanding editor-in-chief at fashion bible Runway, and quickly succumbing to the worst traits of the industry.
‘Andy’ is shown to us as a good girl, enjoying a low-maintenance relationship with scruffy cook Nate (Adrian Grenier) and a suitably diverse set of friends (black artist, camp computer guy) whilst she searches to put her prodigious journalistic talents to good use. When she applies for a job as the assistant to Miranda’s assistant Emily (Emily Blunt), she initially draws nothing but scorn for her dowdy looks and ignorance of the importance of fashion; but Miranda sees something in her and takes her on.
With the impatient help of Emily and a little nudging from enthusiastic designer Nigel (Stanley Tucci, camping it up a treat), Andy is reborn as a beautiful, head-turning butterfly, and her innate competence begins to show through. The job ceases to be ‘just a job’ and Andy begins to dedicate her life to complying with Miranda’s wishes, to the detriment of spending time with those who care about her – Nate’s birthday party is a disaster – and Emily’s plans to live the good life at Miranda’s right-hand side.
The Devil Wears Prada comes across as an authentic portrayal of the fashion industry, with a keen ear for bitchiness in the script and a constant parade of fashion icons, clothes and accessories that those in the know will adore. However, having the inside track on the subject does not on its own guarantee a great story, and the most vaguely savvy filmgoer will be able to predict the events of the film as soon as the characters are set up.
Even though Hathaway frumps up convincingly, it’s no surprise whatsoever that she is easily transformed into a glamorous clothes horse. Will she make herself indispensible to Miranda, to the exclusion of everyone else? Will she have to step over Emily to get on in her work, even denying her her dream trip to Paris? Will Nate react badly to Andy’s new responsibilities and attitude, and will devilishly charming writer Christian Thompson (Simon Baker) offer himself as an alternative? I think we all know the answers.
Were the film thoroughly entertaining or thoroughly dramatic throughout, the familiarity of the plot would be easy to forgive, but as the movie goes on it starts to get overwhelmed by its own negativity, as the wasteland that is Miranda’s private life is laid bare and poor Nigel is crushed between the cogs of Miranda’s scheming as she clings to the only thing that defines her – her job.
Nonetheless, when it is entertaining The Devil Wears Prada is a lot of fun, and this is due to attractive playing by the leads. Anne Hathaway brings the girl-next-door qualities that she showed in The Princess Diaries and marries them to commanding emotion in her big eyes and a sexuality that manages to be both obvious and non-threatening. She is also funny, shown to best effect in her exchanges with Emily Blunt who, while insanely focused on her job and dishing out many of the film’s best insults, also skilfully gets a lot of the sympathy as illness and then injury scupper her dreams.
Streep easily embodies the jaded ruthlessness of Miranda, the scathing boss whose orders are never questioned, managing to make her a partially sympathetic figure when she reveals to Andy the state of her personal affairs (though this particular bit isn’t much fun). In a film where the women dominate (for a change), Tucci does fantastically well to hold up his end; between them, these four clearly and cleverly demonstrate the ups and downs of the fashion industry – but while the characters are interesting and often amusing, there’s not quite enough meat to keep the film going for the best part of two hours.
It’s well-constructed and always watchable, but in the end The Devil Wears Prada has a feel of being put together by the book, with plot, cast, design and soundtrack all built as clinically as an issue of Runway magazine, crafted to the finest detail, leaving nothing to happy accident. Which is not to say the film lacks heart, because Andy and Emily display a great deal of warmth. What can be said is that the film is rarely light-hearted, and never carefree.