As a fascist fashionista in “The Devil Wears Prada,” Meryl Streep makes for a wickedly amusing caricature of boss-lady tyranny.
And well she should, because the rest of this off-the-rack cautionary tale is as trite and predictable as a pair of beige pumps.
Based on novelist Lauren Weisberger’s thinly-veiled account of her year-long stint as assistant to Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, the movie stars Anne Hathaway (“Brokeback Mountain”) as Andy Sachs, a dowdy Northwestern graduate who arrives in New York City with dreams of making it as a Serious Journalist. To her bemusement, she lands a job in the ultra-swank offices of fictional Runway magazine as a glorified galley-slave to editor Miranda Priestly (Streep), a notorious whip-cracker who burns through assistants like a blow-torch.
The Runway staffers — including Priestly’s sycophantic senior assistant, Emily (newcomer Emily Blunt, dripping desperation) — look at Andy’s plaid skirts and saddle shoes and roll their eyes. Andy, with her doe-eyed Bohemian chef boyfriend (Adrian Grenier from “Entourage”) and tweedy Midwestern sensibilities, rolls them right back. Priestly takes note of her young assistant’s fashion-backward attitude and — in a deliciously sour rebuke — gives the girl a quick lesson in the trickle-down theory of fashion trend-setting.
Of course, it would be simple matter for Andy to quit this pampered harridan who makes her fetch steak lunches she never eats and bawls her out for failing to find last-minute airfare out of Miami in the middle of a hurricane, but Andy’s an over-achiever by nature, and loath to walk away from a challenge. Soon, she’s smoothly managing Priestly’s life, losing her own, and — thanks to the magazine’s chummily gay art director (Stanley Tucci, full of zingers) — dressing like a mannequin at Saks Fifth Avenue.
Taking note of her new look and vanishing identity, the boyfriend is understandably vexed: “Have you been drinking the Kool-Aid?”
It is — despite the screenwriter credit claimed by Aline Brosh McKenna — a scenario that writes itself, evoking “Wall Street,” “Boiler Room,” “Swimming with the Sharks” or any number of fast-track corporate parables where the naïf-hero climbs the ladder and gets a big lungful of rarified air before scrambling back down. Of course, in Andy’s case the formula has a feminine twist: Before coming to her senses, she has a torrid affair with a dashing writer (Simon Baker from “Something New”) and scores a free trip to Paris. Aren’t temporary transformations, like, the coolest?
As a former signal-caller on “Sex and the City” and “Entourage,” director David Frankel knowingly navigates the mod by-ways of McKenna’s script, but it’s Streep who saves “Devil” from plunging into a Manichean abyss of good/bad, ugly/beautiful glibness. It’s almost insulting when Frankel asks us to recognize the isolated, all-too-human soul beneath Priestley’s reptilian exterior — like we didn’t see that coming — but with Streep doing the modeling, it’s not a bad look.
>> Rated PG-13 (some sensuality), 109 min. Grade: B-
Imperious fashion magazine editor Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep, right) dumps her coat on the desk of new assistant Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) in “The Devil Wears Prada.”