In the world of high fashion, if you can't keep up with the latest trends, you had better find another line of work. Behind the glamour and glitz lies a serious business that moves at top speed and allows for few mistakes. The behind-the-scenes calculations and dog-eat-dog strategies of this colorful world provide the backdrop for 20th Century Fox's "The Devil Wears Prada," a new comedy that examines the demands on young women as they march out into the workforce (translation: chick flick). For material that seems more than a little familiar, the movie was blessed with a fantastic team to make something fresh out of it. In spite of the impressive list of names attached, however, the film seldom rises above its lightweight expectations.
Aspiring journalist Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway) applies for an assistant's job at major New York fashion magazine Runway in hopes of opening doors to further, more serious writing jobs. To her surprise, the employees at Runway eat, sleep, and breathe fashion, and the sight of her dowdy appearance is the first of many sharp contrasts to the world that she unwittingly finds herself growing increasingly part of. The mastermind behind the company is legendary editor in chief Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), a relentless diva who demands impeccable accuracy and expects no less than 150% from her employees. Her unwavering domination is known throughout the fashion world, but the rewards of being in her favor are just as famous, making it a position that "millions of girls would kill for."
At first a little apprehensive about her sudden thrust into a business that she has little interest in, Andrea is slowly seduced by Miranda's professional pull and the chic surroundings in which she finds herself working. Unfortunately, the unpredictable nature of her work and requirement to be on call at all times starts to cause a rift in Andrea's relationship with boyfriend Nate (Adrian Grenier). Though understanding at first, he soon becomes less patient with Andrea's new commitment and offers her an ultimatum. It will not be the last time that she is forced to choose between the benefits of her job and someone she cares about.
Although I am not part of the target audience of a film like this, I am big enough to admit that I enjoy a good chick flick every now and then. As long as I'm given good writing and good performing, I don't mind a little romance or even a good cry, so long as it is sufficiently warranted. "The Devil Wears Prada" certainly has a lot of things working in its favor. First is director David Frankel. Frankel, whose credits include the hit TV series "Sex and the City," infuses the picture with a slick agility that perfectly suits the fashion business that it celebrates. The same robust, exciting elements of New York City that were showcased to great effect in the TV series are utilized to the hilt in this film, making it a veritable haven of style and couture. The stunning photography is so smooth and sleek that it almost resembles a commercial (and with all of the namedropping and product placement, it could very well be one).
The cast gives it their all as well, led energetically by Anne Hathaway, who is the real star of the film in spite of receiving second billing. Hathaway, who played an adolescent version of this character in her breakout role in "The Princess Diaries," carries her weight with just the right amount of fluster and sophistication. Watching her perform, I was frequently reminded of Audrey Hepburn in both her looks and demeanor. She brings a truly fresh and appealing quality to her role that should put her on the radar of future superstars.
Supporting players Emily Blunt and Stanley Tucci are great fun as Andrea's snippy coworkers. Blunt is a real find, displaying excellent comic timing. Character actor Tucci once again shows why he is a pro of the highest caliber, shooting off sarcastic quips with the best of them and, when called for, hitting the right emotional nerve.
Meryl Streep's performance is another notch in her endless line of triumphs, but here is where the movie hits a few bumps. The character of Miranda is vital to the success of the rest of the film, as almost every action revolves around or comes about because of her. Her diva antics at times reach such over-the-top heights as to take the film dangerously close to the realm of satire, rendering later attempts to humanize and soften her character artificial and unconvincing. Screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna cannot seem to strike the right balance between what is humorously edgy and realistically acceptable. As a result, Miranda's personality runs the gamut from demanding to obsessive compulsive to borderline psychotic. There is one especially chilling moment in which Miranda icily stairs at Andrea who has unwisely gone upstairs in Miranda's townhouse. With the sheer and completely inappropriate intensity of this moment, I half expected Miranda to pull out a butcher knife and start hacking away at her naïve assistant. At times, Streep's deliberate underplaying seems to undermine the outrageousness of her character, but I cannot fault the actress for it as the direction in which she takes the character is far more interesting than that of the screenwriter.
The story itself falls too frequently into the standard clichés of the awkward-girl-turns-into-a-swan-thanks-to-an-unexpected-fairy-godmother formula. There is never any real suspense about where the movie is going, and its episodic structure often makes it less interesting than it could have been. While it does highlight the business side of the fashion industry that is frequently taken for granted and gives a mostly believable account of what goes on behind the smoke and mirrors, the film ultimately plays a very safe game and offers few new insights into a genuinely fascinating world.
Fox Home Entertainment has released the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio in a beautiful, anamorphic widescreen transfer. The copy that I received was a screener copy, and hence difficult from which to draw sufficient conclusions about the picture and sound quality, but from what I could tell it was quite acceptable. The movie features an incredible palette of bold, rich colors, and the DVD transfer brought them to life splendidly. Black levels were deep and solid. There appeared to be no edge enhancement, though some artifacting was noticeable throughout, but I believe this was only because I was watching a screener copy. I am willing to bet that the official DVD will run much smoother than this one and, from the looks of things, should feature an excellent, crisp image.
The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix. The main sound is limited almost exclusively to dialogue, so there was nothing much to distinguish the 5.1 mix, but voices had a good, natural tone. It could have been a bit clearer and even a little louder, but there were no major problems with this track. Spanish and French surround tracks were also provided, as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
The first bonus feature on this disc is an audio commentary track with director David Frankel, producer Wendy Finerman, costume designer Patricia Field, screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna, editor Mark Livolsi, and director of photography Florian Ballhaus. With six people going, there were certainly no gaps or boring moments. On the contrary, the track proved to be a most enjoyable feature with extensive information on all respective aspects of production.
Up next are a series of short featurettes, starting with "The Trip to the Big Screen," a 12-minute look at the adaptation of Lauren Weisberger's novel. "NYC and Fashion" offers six minutes of discussion of the importance of New York City as a character in the film and its place in the fashion industry. "Fashion Visionary Patricia Field" is a nine-minute featurette on costume designer Field and her background in fashion. The three-minute "Getting Valentino" briefly relates how they managed to get famed designer Valentino Garavani to appear in the movie. Lastly, the three-minute "Boss from Hell" features a slew of people describing their experiences with demanding bosses.
Fifteen deleted scenes follow, with optional commentary by David Frankel and editor Mark Livolsi. A very funny, five-minute gag reel turns up next. Lastly, we have a trailer and TV spot gallery for this and other releases.
"The Devil Wears Prada" makes good on its celebration of the fashion industry, showcasing in fine detail the meticulousness of its presentation and the dedication it requires. Despite its impressive look and style, however, it proves to be little more than imitation of much better films on the subject of working women. Anne Hathaway more than holds her own against the great Meryl Streep, but I only wish the writing was up to their level. Some may find this more entertaining than I did, and it does have its share of good laughs, but good luck dragging your boyfriends to see it, ladies. You'd be better off taking him to a runway show where at least there would be some hope of innovation.