THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA

PG-13

-By Maria Garcia


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In Lauren Weisberger's roman à clef The Devil Wears Prada, her heroine Andrea is a sarcastic, chain-smoking Jewish gal, a recent Ivy League graduate who lands a job at a prestigious fashion magazine. Andrea, who harbors a dream of writing for The New Yorker, wears her scuffed flats to the office, never quite disguising her disdain for all things beau monde. Andrea's contempt does not go unnoticed by her boss, the puissant editor of Runway magazine, Miranda Priestly, who long ago disavowed her Jewish roots. Throughout the novel, Andrea carps about Miranda's superficiality and her insane demands, which include getting Andrea to procure a pre-publication copy of the latest Harry Potter book for her children. Andrea's internal dialogue consists of fantasies about Miranda's demise: "You don't want her to die...because if she does, you lose all hope of killing her yourself." Although Weisberger has steadfastly denied it, her former employer, Vogue editor Anna Wintour, is widely believed to be the inspiration for Miranda.

In the film version of The Devil Wears Prada, Andrea is Andy (Anne Hathaway), a perky, saccharine gentile, a Northwestern grad who defends her formidable boss (Meryl Streep) from detractors by accusing them of gender bias. In Andy's eyes-and in director David Frankel's-Miranda is a lonely, frustrated woman headed for her third divorce. It's rather sickening, really, and disingenuous, to see Weisberger's screeching editor and spiteful assistant reduced to sitcom characters. If the film represented a fresh take on the novel, and not idiotic pandering to political correctness, then the changes would be defensible. They're not. An insipid script by Laws of Attraction co-writer Aline Brosh McKenna packs a few droll one-liners, but mostly the film only aspires to its chick-lit roots. Any trace of character development is not in the screenplay-it's in the heroic attempts of the cast to interpret their outsized fashionista personalities.

Frankel's small-screen approach to direction, forged no doubt by his tenure on "Sex in the City," stifles even Meryl Streep, whose performance is far too understated. With the exception of a promising opening scene, which is in the trailer, and a few devilish moments in a production meeting, Streep's Miranda could be a somnambulist. Stanely Tucci as Nigel, Miranda's pet employee, Emily Blunt (My Summer of Love) as first assistant Emily, and slimy, seductive Simon Baker (Something New) as Andrea's pursuer manage to be bright spots despite Frankel's efforts to downsize them to TV personalities. Hathaway's performance is competent but bland; her TV precursor, "That Girl" Marlo Thomas, had more spark and spunk.

Weisberger's Miranda is shrill, but Frankel's whispers, the better to inspire lazy assistants to pay strict attention. Toning down Miranda may appear judicious for the translation from novel to film-the camera disdains overacting-but it isn't appropriate for a comedy fueled by conflict. Think of Sigourney Weaver's scheming Katherine Parker in Working Girl: She's such a fiend that no matter what you think of Melanie Griffith's Tess, you root for her. Streep's composed, self-possessed Miranda drains tension from the plot, and ends up giving the movie a decidedly anti-feminist twist: Viragos like Anna Wintour and Martha Stewart blaze paths. If they chew up a few husbands, or they demand perfection from everyone around them, at least they're on top. No apologies necessary. Their male counterparts don't offer any. Andy alone represents the possibility of transformation, but all she does, disappointingly, is discard her hard-earned Manolos.

If there were no Mirandas, those hard-bitten career women who scratched their way to the top of male-dominated industries in the 1960s, where would today's starry-eyed Andreas learn the hard work and steely resolve necessary to distinguish themselves? Devils are no less effective mentors than angels, as Lauren Weisberger obviously learned. Despite two particularly nasty reviews of her book in The New York Times (the most vindictive by Janet Maslin), The Devil Wears Prada remained on the paper's bestseller list for nearly six months. No doubt the film version will stand out among the summer blockbusters, if only because of the popularity of the novel, but this critic would like to have seen Weisberger's heroine on the screen. That Andrea spends $28 each morning on her Starbucks run for Miranda: In addition to Miranda's coffee, she gleefully buys muffins and tall lattes for the homeless, putting it on her Runway tab. In the final chapter of the novel, Eduardo, a pesky lobby guard, lets Andrea, who is now a freelance writer on assignment for Runway, breeze through security "like I was someone who mattered."

-Maria Garcia


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