Devil Wears Prada, The (2006): David Frankel’s Comedy, Starring Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt

David Frankel’s The Devil Wears Prada offers an inside, vicious look at the new fashion world thats glitzy and vastly entertaining, even if its not too deep or particularly revelatory. The best compliment I can pay this sporadically witty but always enjoyable comedy is that George Cukor and Vincente Minnelli, MGMs top directors of the studio era, would have been proud of it.

In role that could have easily escalated into high camp, Meryl Streep, embodying an Anna Wintour-like magazine editor, gives such an astute and measured performance that she elevates the black comedy way above its narrative shortcomings and compromised denouement.

Problem is, there is a lot of Anne Hathaway, as Mirandas new assistant, but not enough of Streep, whose role in the films first half mostly consists of entrances and exits, one-liners, and brief vignettes. Director Frankel seems enamored with montages, several of which show Streep carelessly dropping her coat and bag on her assistant’s desk.

The balance between the two women is somehow restored in the tales second half, when Streep is given two or three well-written and prolonged scenes that enable her to again validate why shes regarded the most accomplished actress in American film today.

The script takes liberties, particularly in the ending, with the best-selling novel by Lauren Weisberger, which was for six months on the New York Times bestseller list and was translated into 27 languages. Even so, The Devil Wears Prada is not only the most satisfying comedy around, but also the first comedy this summer made for adults. Indeed, here is a comedy with no children, animals, or special effects that totally relies on witty humor, sophisticated characters, and glamorous look, resulting in a film that feels like the old MGM pictures of yesteryear.

The fact that the text is femme-driven, offering three major roles to women (the third one is the talented Emily Blunt, who plays Mirandas first assistant) also recalls studio movies of the Golden age, when divas like Crawford, Hepburn, and Rosalind Russell reigned supreme in movies like Cukors The Women (which contains a 10-minute color sequence of a fashion show), or Minnellis Designing Woman, in which Lauren Bacall plays a fashion designer.

Not since Mike Nicholss Working Girl, which was also glitzy and shallow, has there been such an enjoyable comedy about career women in the Big Apple. Moreover, the relationships between Streep, Hathaway, and Blunt resembles in some respects the interaction that prevailed in that film between Sigourney Weaver, as the bitchy boss, and Melanie Griffith, as the greener, who quickly ascends the power ladder and also steals her man.

Streep plays Miranda Priestly, the reigning queen of fashion whose whims can literally start and end careers. Finding a good assistant who can live up to Mirandas high expectations is an impossible task; none lasts more than a few weeks. That changes when the smart but decidedly unfashionable Andy Sachs (Hathaway), naively walks into her office.

A journalism student, Andy believes that she can change the world after leaving the comforts of Northwestern University and landing in the big city. However, in the distorted aesthetics of the New York fashion scene, a size 6 like Andy stands out. A beautiful girl, who is not model-thin, initially, Andy doesn’t care about it.

Andy embarks on a familiar journey that many women take when they get their first jobs and discover what the real world is like. In each step along this long, torturous process, Andy must make moral and personal choicesat a price.

A film about fashion must be shot in New York, the beating heart of the glamour industry. As he did in Sex and the City, Frankel brings the sexy, romantic, and fun part of the Big Apple. Intentionally or unintentionally, The Devil Wears Prada is a valentine to New York City, seen through the excitable eyes of youths like Andy, who cant wait to experience the world as an adult there.

Full of excitement when she first moves to New York, Andy must quickly learn the citys ins and outs in order to complete seemingly impossible tasks for Miranda. Any visitor to New York remembers the first time they discovered the city. Like Miranda, New York is intimidating, and it requires time and effort to understand how to function there.

Though necessary, what drag the movie down are the romantic scenes between Andy and her boyfriend Nat, (TVs Adrian Grenier of Entourage) and the social scenes with Andys entourage of friends. We are always eager to get back to the comedys essence, which is located in the shifting emotional and power relationships between Miranda and Andy.

We dont expect Hollywood movies to be realistic, or serve as microcosms of the specific milieu they portray. However, midway, The Devil Wears Prada changes tone from a black comedy about women, careers, and the workplace, into a romantic fable in the manner of Working Girl, and even Pretty Woman. Hence, the fable adds a subplot, in which Andy is courted by a handsome prince charming (TVs Simon Baker) in Paris! but makes the mistake of turning him into a bland, almost asexual man; he’s all smiles.

No fashion film these days can be credible without at least one major gay character, and here he is played by Stanley Tucci, not too impressively, I might add, perhaps because he functions as a plot point. Unlike the women, we don’t get any sense of what his personal life is like.

Space doesnt permit me to dwell on those aspects, but suffice is to say that the new consciousness gained by Andy, her discovery of her real inner self, and the moralistic ending, not only deviate from the spirit of the source material but pander to the public, suggesting a middle-of-the-road approach (or centrist movie, to use an ideological term in film studies) that humanizes all the movies characters, including Miranda.

Having explored the vagaries of fashion and celebrity in the hit TV series Sex in the City and Entourage, Frankel brings his expertise to this movie. He and Streep have made a shrewd choice not to demonize Miranda as a dragon lady, but instead present her as a woman utterly dedicated to her career, driven by a relentless pursuit of excellence, with all the personal and familial sacrifices involved to achieve her goal and stay at the top of the ruthlessly competitive profession.

A light feminist streak runs through the comedy. It might be a fruitful exercise for viewers to engage in imaginative rehearsals, and place a man in Mirandas shoes. When women become successful and famous on the level of Miranda, they are criticized, by both men and women, for putting their work first. Occupying similar positions, men would be praised or at least not be criticized.

Production designer Jess Gonchor created two contrasting worlds. Andy and Nates apartment is simple, small and darkly lit, in contrast to the fabulous orbit of Miranda, which displays a light color palette. The Runaway magazines offices express Mirandas unique taste and relentless insistence upon elegance and perfection.

The Devil Wears Prada comes at a time of heightened interest in the fashion world, when images of glamour and the lifestyles of the rich and famous dominate our lives in many different ways. Up-to-the moment, the movie is good at showing how the Internet has changed the fashion industry around the world, and how fashion is a constant pursuit for reinvention. In order for fashion to succeed, it has to make women (and men, too) feel that what they wear is either inadequate or quickly become obsolete.

The film creates a rather authentic portrait of todays fashion giants through the costumescourtesy of designer Patricia Field, an Emmy Award winner for her work on Sex and the City. Field has effectively created a gorgeous style for Miranda and for Andys transformation into a fashionista–as well as the look of the omnipresent Clackers.

Mirandas visage stands on its own–no one else looks like her: Streep sports her naturally white hair with defiant vanity, like a badge of honor. Along with Field, who dresses Streep’s fashion editor so that she looks as beautiful as possible, legendary designer Valentino has designed a dress that Miranda wears at a ritzy charity ball. Simple yet elegant, it shows Streeps beautiful shoulders, porcelain skin, and curves to an advantage. Valentino also makes an acting debut in the film in a cameo role.

Hathaway, the breakout star of The Princess Diaries, who had a key role in Brokeback Mountain, is utterly credible as the defiant assistant, who refuses to quit and is determined to make it on her own terms.

Ultimately, though, the movie belongs to Streep who excels as a pro skating the edge between the comically mean and the genuinely sad. Streep has an incredible talent to blend comedy and drama in the same scene, often in the same line, that never feels forced or overly theatrical.

Commenting on the ink that her divorces have gotten on Page Six of the Post, she says: “Rupert Murdoch should cut me a check for all the papers I sell for him.” And just notice the endless, musical variations in her voice when she says, thats all, a frequent phrase indicating the termination of a conversation or a meeting–always at her own will.