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Film review

Wickedly Smart comedy: Wage slave to the devil

The Devil Wears Prada is a glossy, saucy runway romp.

By STEVE PERSALL
Published June 29, 2006


  Well-dressed workaholic: Wage slave to the devil
Devil needs a beastlier boss and plainer sidekicks.

The Devil Wears Prada may be too "out there" for mass consumption, like the haute couture and fashionistas it comically deflates with sharpened, painted nails.

Yet there's a little something for both bargain-bin shoppers and Neiman Marcus regulars in David Frankel's film version of Lauren Weisberger's bestselling novel, based on her experiences working for Manhattan fashion maven Anna Wintour.

Frankel crafts a classy satire of superficiality, sharply adapted to retain the book's cattiest aspects, presented with near-perfect timing by the cast and editor Mark Livolsi.

Moviegoers who don't know Wintour's reputation can still relish the way her doppelganger, Miranda Priestly Meryl Streep reveals personal and ethical warts under all that makeup and ritzy clothing. Anyone that rich, haughty and callous deserves to be ridiculed.

At the same time, Frankel's movie establishes an elegant culture that could seduce anyone from their principles. It is the department store window through which some see glamor while others see garbage.

Miranda lords over Runway magazine with an aura so intimidating that nobody will share an elevator or hallway with her. From her steel tower she doles out the future rules of fashion through sycophants, never masking her disdain for mainstream clothing, like the style worn by Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway) as she interviews for an assistant's position. Andy, as she prefers to be called, is beautiful but not by Miranda's standards, so she isn't. Andy's bank account isn't in any position to complain.

Yet Miranda likes Andy's spunk, and the new employee becomes interested in the fashions her boss wants around the office, gifted by a snide art layout designer named Nigel (Stanley Tucci) from a cavernous closet. Clothes begin making the young woman someone she hasn't been, stunning her working-class lover (Adrian Grenier) and friends. Whether Andy can recapture her true spirit is the core of The Devil Wears Prada, indeed its only attempt to generate a story from these interesting characters.

That is the main problem with Frankel's movie and may not be his fault. I haven't read the book, so I don't know how much steak there was to go with the sizzle. Book editor Margo Hammond's accompanying review can better answer that.

What the movie has that even viewers in T-shirts and shorts can appreciate are good performances and acerbic banter, making the slim plot feel richer. Since Miranda is atop the fashion world, her closest targets are also trendy and still get hammered; people we're expected to look up to get the snobby treatment rather than us. Streep delivers each sideways glance and tart remark with confidence that would make Cruella De Vil wilt, especially when explaining why what she does for a living really does matter to bargain shoppers.

The movie could use more of Tucci's deliciously dry line readings in the second half, and Hathaway still is more unique as a beauty than an actor.

A late development to rig some kind of plot closure arrives too fast and is too mildly confusing to matter. Despite its shortcomings, The Devil Wears Prada constantly gives its audience credit for appreciating smart comedy. Such respect never goes out of style.

Steve Persall can be reached at (727) 8893-8365 or persall@sptimes.com.

The Devil Wears Prada

Steve Persall's Grade: B+

Margo Hammond's Grade: B-

Director: David Frankel

Cast: Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Stanley Tucci, Emily Blunt, Adrian Grenier, Simon Baker, TracieThoms

Screenplay: Aline Brosh McKenna, based on the novel by Lauren Weisberger

Rating: PG-13; profanity, brief sensuality

Running time: 110 min.

[Last modified June 28, 2006, 12:34:04]


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