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Film review

Well-dressed workaholic: Wage slave to the devil

Devil needs a beastlier boss and plainer sidekicks.

By MARGO HAMMOND
Published June 29, 2006


  Wickedly Smart comedy: Wage slave to the devil
The Devil Wears Prada is a glossy, saucy runway romp.

Lauren Weisberger's chick-lit novel, The Devil Wears Prada, a dishy send-up of the fashion world, would seem to have all the ingredients for a great film: a villain as shallow and mean as the fur-obsessed Cruella De Vil; a young heroine as charming and hapless as Bridget Jones, this time in a size 6; and lots and lots of drop-dead gorgeous designer togs.

But, alas, the devil is in the details.

Weisberger's scathing satire offered a clear, albeit ham-handed, morality tale about what really matters in life hint: It isn't clothes. But Hollywood just couldn't bring itself to bite the Prada-clutching hand that it feeds on. Who would supply all those Oscar gowns?

The story in its journey from book to movie remains essentially intact: Andrea Sachs, a young Midwestern gal who dreams of writing for the New Yorker accepts a job as the personal assistant to Miranda Priestly, the editor of the New York fashion magazine Runway. The demanding Priestly turns out to be the boss from hell.

What changes from page to screen, however, is any sharp contrast between Priestly's vain domain of the impossibly tall and the impossibly thin and the world of Sachs' ordinary family and friends, so free from affectation in the book. In Weisberger's novel, when Sachs inevitably chooses family over work, she reconnects with a boyfriend who teaches underprivileged kids. In the movie, her boyfriend - whose name has changed from Alex to Nate - is a chef making port wine reduction sauces. He looks like a male model.

Worse, Priestly is no longer beastly - or at least not the unrelenting devil of Weisberger's parody. Played with appropriately pursed lips by Meryl Streep (she definitely should accept more of these villainous roles) the cinematic Priestly emerges as merely a misunderstood workaholic who insists on good taste and excellence, and, oh, also that her coat and purse be hung up and her coffee be hot.

Sure, she treats Sachs like a lackey, sending the assistant to fetch her laundry, her dog and the latest Harry Potter books (not yet published) for her twin daughters.

Yes, in a clever plot twist cooked up for the movie version, she betrays her faithful art director (a fussy fashionista played to perfection by Stanley Tucci) to save her job.

But Priestly also tears up at the thought of how her divorce will affect her children, gives an impassioned speech about the importance of fashion, and, in the end, even tells a prospective employer that he would be "crazy not to hire" her fired assistant.

In 2003 when Weisberger published The Devil Wears Prada, she was lambasted in some quarters for her own alleged betrayal of a work colleague: Anna Wintour, the powerful head of Vogue. Weisberger had worked as Wintour's personal assistant and it was assumed that The Devil Wears Prada was based on some real-life work horrors with the woman the press had dubbed "Nuclear Wintour."

The book version of The Devil Wears Prada, however, wasn't popular only because of its potential for gossip. Not everyone who read the novel knew, or cared, who Wintour is. It struck a chord because, like so many coming-of-age tales - beginning with The Best of Everything, Rona Jaffe's 1958 cautionary story of New York publishing - it reinforced the notion that glamor has its price and what really counts is spending time with friends and family.

"Everyone wants to be us," Priestly sniffs as she emerges from a limo into the flashing lightbulbs of the paparazzi. The line is Sachs' cue to walk away from her soul-sapping job, but the moment rings false. For the moviegoer, the glamor has been all too alluring (hey, isn't that Heidi Klum playing Heidi Klum?)

Even harder to swallow is the moment when Sachs calls a former colleague at Runway and offers to give her all the freebie designer clothes she amassed while working for Priestly. Sachs won't be needing them because she has landed a job with a crusading newspaper where she presumably will be covering toxic waste dumps.

Right.

Margo Hammond can be reached at (727) 893-8768 or hammond@sptimes.com.

[Last modified June 28, 2006, 12:24:53]


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