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A "Devil" of a job: Meryl Streep is perfectly wicked as chic boss
Seattle Times movie critic
Some movies dazzle us with their artistry; some inspire us to want to make the world a better place; and some leave us with the overwhelming desire to immediately upgrade our accessories. In the vast world of cinema, there's room for all of these, and David Frankel's sprightly-yet-nasty "The Devil Wears Prada" fits snugly into the third category.
Should you walk away from the theater with an immediate need for long, dangling necklaces, slim stiletto-heeled boots and oversized belts ... well, I hope there are some left in the stores for you.
But aside from the soft-goods porn (there's also a green velvet coat so fabulous that it deserves several paragraphs of its own, but, alas, won't get them), there's another compelling reason to watch this movie. Meryl Streep, as fashion-editor-from-hell Miranda Priestly, coolly tosses down a performance that's perfection.
Placed side-by-side with her wistful, ditzy Yolanda Johnson in "A Prairie Home Companion" — two roles that couldn't be further apart — it's like a master class in film acting. Single-handedly, Streep lifts "Prada" from adequate chick flick into intoxicating character study.
Scripted by Aline Brosh McKenna, Frankel's film is based on unpromising source material: Lauren Weisberger's novel, a thinly veiled account of her year as an assistant to Anna Wintour, the legendarily demanding Vogue magazine editor. It's a self-serving and awkwardly written piece of work about a too-good-to-be-true college grad named Andy Sachs, who really wants to write for The New Yorker but reluctantly accepts a job that she feels is beneath her.
The book feels like one long sneer, at Wintour (who's given no redeeming qualities of any kind) and at the fashion industry in general. The title is the funniest thing about it.
McKenna's version, though very sitcom-y, makes some welcome changes. Andy is less self-congratulatory, and Miranda is just a bit more human — she's given a few scenes that explain the kind of choices she's had to make to get where she is. It's rough in spots (Andy's earnest boyfriend actually says, "I wouldn't care if you were out pole-dancing all night, as long as you do it with a little integrity," causing titters from a preview audience), but it's serviceable as a star vehicle.
While Stanley Tucci flits in and out of the film agreeably as Miranda's funny plaid-suited henchman, and the dulcet-toned Anne Hathaway is perkily charming as Andy (she's rapidly become the best eye-batter in the movie business), the film belongs to Streep.
It would be too obvious, and perhaps too easy, to play Miranda as a screeching shrew. Streep's choice is to play her very quietly; her Miranda is the sort that speaks almost inaudibly because she's confident that you'll do whatever it takes to hear her. Her words ripple out in a languid trail. "Has she died or something?" she asks about an absent assistant, not particularly interested in hearing the answer.
Streep's face barely moves as she speaks; her whip-smart Miranda isn't about to waste facial expressions on the undeserving. It's a perfectly controlled performance, and a very funny one: Streep can do more with an ever-so-slightly raised eyebrow than most actors can do with a comic monologue.
"The Devil Wears Prada" may soon fade, like an expensive skirt tossed in the washing machine, and its fashions may become out of date by next season. But Streep, as she's shown us for three decades now, remains one of the screen's most vivid stars.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company