The Devil Wears Prada is a movie about high fashion (or couture) and the world behind it, made accessible through the eyes of a new comer. The viewer has most-likely seen the formula that resides in the structure of The Devil Wears Prada before though: a wide eyed, naive person is thrust into an alien situation, assimilates the behavior of the people around them, alienates their old friends, learns a few life lessons along the way then reverts back to their former persona by the movie’s end (i.e. Mean Girls, Wall Street, Donnie Brasco, etc.). What saves The Devil Wears Prada, and those films as well, from this golden-oldies formula are the performances by its two lead actresses or actors.
The first of the two lead actresses in The Devil Wears Prada is Meryl Streep. I am unsure if she will win because of Ellen Page’s performance in Hard Candy but Streep will definitely get a nomination for best actress in a drama. Streep doesn’t have that much screen time, like Judi Dench in 1996’s Shakespeare in Love, but when she is on screen, like Dench, she is in total command and at the top of the acting profession. Streep plays Miranda Priestly, a malevolent megalomaniac who happens to be the editor-and-chief of a posh fashion magazine called Runway. She demands and expects extreme excellence from all of her employees in all avenues of their job and a excruciatingly high level of intuitive improvisation when it comes to the tasks she sets before them. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” is a very familiar quote but if President Harry Truman had worked at Runway, he would have changed heat to flames and kitchen to inferno, thus rendering it: If you can’t stand the flames, get out of the inferno.
The other lead actress in The Devil Wears Prada, the newcomer in the golden-oldies formula I spoke of early, is Anne Hathaway, a young ingénue who is steadily rising up through the young actress ranks in Hollywood, making a viable name for herself along the way. Hathaway plays Andrea Sachs, a journalism major fresh out college who has just moved to New York City and finds herself as the new assistant to Streep’s Miranda. Hathaway is effective in her part and the viewer feels her pain through a few particularly biting scenes but its Miranda’s venom and its potency that carries the film. It’s her quips, jabs and comments, along with the fashion world setting, that sustains this film and helps to buoy it above the average.
David Frankel’s The Devil Wears Prada is a very entertaining, satisfying film but also a vastly predictable one. All one need do is reference “the formula” to know what happens throughout all three acts of this film or view previous films that have used the same recipe. If the film makers had followed the format of Lauren Weisberger’s novel, which this film is based on and titled from, Prada would have opened with Hathaway’s Andrea already ensconced in her assistant job and on one of Miranda’s errands. But because screen writer Aline Brosh McKenna felt audiences needed an introduction into the fashion magazine world and to the film’s protagonist, that beginning was modified to suit “the formula” and the viewer is carried on Hathaway’s back through the doors of the Elias-Clark building, is enveloped in the Runway offices and the viewer into a summer movie with above average substance and characters.