As legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland used to say in the era before daunting editor Anna Wintour, who inspired the character of terrifying editor Miranda Priestly, who, in the yummy, carb-lite fashion-world fantasy The Devil Wears Prada, rules the fictitious magazine Runway like a magnificently cruel empress — well, as DV used to say, People Are Talking About…Meryl Streep.
Streep is Priestly, and I mean that from the topmost swoop of her divine, leonine silver coif to the polished tip of her pointiest Manolo. As she throws her PETA-disapproved fur jackets around, she exudes fearsome power with every shriveling glance she tosses over the tops of her reading glasses, every despotic command she murmurs. Streep has noodled around with comedy before — air kisses are in order for her great silliness in the Lemony Snicket movie, and her hilarious ballbusting in the remake of The Manchurian Candidate. But we haven’t seen our Meryl like this until now, relishing the role as if it were the swellest Best of Everything achievement award a 13-time Oscar nominee could receive.
And it is. Lording it over rosebud-pretty Anne Hathaway as Andrea ”Andy” Sachs, a new assistant spectacularly (and sitcom-ly) wrong for the job (Downy-fresh Andy’s got no interest in fashion, has never heard of Miranda Priestly, and wishes she were doing Important Journalism at The New Yorker), the seasoned star gently, graciously, and firmly steals the picture away from her younger colleague. For which thanks are due. It’s not that Hathaway isn’t gorgeous, a vision of ruby lips and brunet go-go bangs, her pony figure swathed in the killer wardrobe Andy learns to appreciate. But because Andy is such an impossible construct — a girl too pretty to have badness stick to her, a manipulative innocent — the whole giddy premise teeters on suspended disbelief as if on a skyscraper-high stiletto heel.
Who am I kidding? The story is glossy junk begat of just-plain junk anyway: Lauren Weisberger, who wrote the hiss-and-tell roman à clef best-seller on which the picture is based, was herself an assistant to Wintour, and her novel is greasy with pride in her own ”integrity” and disdain for both her boss and the magazine whose paychecks she was presumably not forced at gunpoint to collect. The movie Prada, directed by HBO regular David Frankel (he’s helmed Entourage, which helps explain Adrian Grenier’s appearance as Andy’s true-blue boyfriend), defangs most of Weisberger’s crass opportunistic glee, but the whole thing is still more of a pop-culture sow’s ear than a Fendi purse, with the laugh-out-loud spangly bits more likely the detail work of uncredited funny fellows like Paul Rudnick than the sensibility of credited screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna (Laws of Attraction). Blameless Andy is first too pure for the Priestly cult, then seduced, then pure again at the end, only with a better wardrobe? Whatever, sister — it’s Streep who pops our flashbulbs.