Continuing our accidental series of devil movies (and avoiding such titles as Devil’s Breath and The Devil’s Candy), The Devil Wears Prada follows a fresh-faced journalist (Anne Hathaway) starting work as assistant to Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), the ultra-demanding editor of a prestigious fashion magazine.
Compared to an industry exposé like Showgirls, with its population of hyper-ambitious aliens, the characters are actually relatable. Her annoying demeanour aside, Hathaway’s arc from doe-eyed naïf to corporate sell-out turns her into a bit of a dick instead of a full-blown psycho, so we are still largely on her side by the time she comes to her senses. Streep too resists the temptation to make Miranda a Swimming With Sharks-style monster (and we don’t mean Kevin Spacey), adding sympathetic shades to the soft-spoken bully based on Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
Lauren Weisberger’s book is drawn from her time as Wintour’s assistant, and whether or not people have experience working for that kind of belligerent boss, they immediately know who this person is thanks to the film’s broad yet strong characterisation. Her introduction has background extras practically run away from Miranda in the corridor, a nice touch that avoids drawing attention to itself. And while it is superficial in many ways, the no-frills story is straightforward and functional by design, a tonic to the over-engineered demands of the fashion scene.
As for the shallowness, look no further than Hathaway’s casting as someone constantly described as neither skinny nor glamorous. This not only stretches credibility but glosses over any point about unrealistic beauty standards that might have been intended, by virtue of having your supposedly average protagonist actually look like a model all the way through the film. The rest of the cast is more convincing, featuring Stanley Tucci as the same character he played in Burlesque, positioning him at the Cher/Streep intersection usually occupied by ABBA. His now sister-in-law Emily Blunt also gets her break as a stuck-up Brit, a role that fits her like a designer glove.
Overall The Devil Wears Prada hits its brief with as much style as one could hope from 2006, including that KT Tunstall song and a plot point where Miranda insists on obtaining the unpublished Harry Potter manuscript in the next four hours (surely enough time to write it yourself). It places the fashion world under a warm light if not a microscope, poking it with a wedge rather than a heel, resulting in a well-made and watchable comedy about some of the industry’s least awful people.