Not long out of university, and with a sturdy law degree under her arm, Andy Sachs (Hathaway) moves to New York with a change of career in mind: journalism. Her path to the job of her dreams, she decides, is to stick it out for a year in a position that few survive in: Assistant to Miranda Priestley (Streep), the powerful and much feared editor of Runway fashion magazine. It’s Streep’s performance, the most successful of her semi-comic turns to date, that gives the film its inner life. She plays Miranda as a kind of Starbucks-fuelled, business minded she-devil, whose acidic one-liners (some of them self penned) and patronising put-downs really paint a picture of the person underneath: yes, she actually is this hard. However, as the patient viewer will come to realise, she is also sad and lonely, and her one scene sans make-up, in which she almost bears her soul to Andy, is a classic Meryl moment. No one does bottled-up emotion like the lady Streep, and you’ll be swallowing golf balls in your throat before you know what’s going on. Hathaway keeps up with her all the way in her second standout performance this year, following her proud Texas girl turn in Brokeback Mountain.
Surprisingly, given the somewhat schlocky nature of the filmmakers (Sex and the City director and quasi unknown screenwriter adapt airport novel), the film's screenplay and production values are very strong. The pace is good, it looks fantastic and the script is rich in dialogue and genuinely funny. What really gives the film its dramatic backbone though (and it is essentially a drama, albeit a comedy one) is its balanced and intelligent critique of the fashion world: soulless and destructive though it is, it holds enormous appeal to a lot of intelligent people, and the film shows why.
It also shows how the fashion world corrupts, and therein lies Andy’s dilemma: toss out her soul with her black slip-ons, or put on the fashion shoes and retain her inner self? She learns the hard way that its possible to do the latter, but not before flirting with some very dicey flames and witnessing a couple of terrifying versions of her potential future self.
Funny, touching and slyly educational - not to mention unexpectedly profound and moving - The Devil Wears Prada rises above its fluffy first impression and stands proud in the ranks of big city business satire. Oliver Stone should be proud of it.