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The Devil Wears Prada

Movies | Hollywood conventions leave Prada somewhat declawed

Issue: "Katie can't bar the door," July 15, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada (rated PG-13 for some sensuality), based on a novel by Lauren Weisberger, is a funny and entertaining film that ends up marred by Hollywood conventions. The likeable Anne Hathaway (from the Princess Diaries movies) plays Andy, a young journalism grad eager to land a writing job in New York City. She ends up working for Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), the tyrannical head of a Vogue-like fashion magazine.

Andy is the least likely choice for her new job-she cares more about issue pieces on janitors' unions than the latest collection from Dolce & Gabbana, and dresses to match. Thrust into a world dominated by people who live and breathe an industry she knows nothing about, Andy is nonetheless determined to last out the ordeal until something better comes along.

Andy is an engaging protagonist, and her wide-eyed exposure to high fashion and New York City publishing is amusing and fun. But as Andy's moral fiber is tested by the demands of her fiendish editor, the film smoothes out the ethical dilemmas by encouraging just a little too much enjoyment in Andy's personal fashion makeover. (Nerd-to-beauty transformations usually pay lip service to the higher importance of inner beauty, but the protagonist also usually ends up looking fabulous.)

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In what appears to be another nod to the conventions of screenwriting, Andy's devil-boss is at least partially declawed. Streep delightfully underplays the role, relying on low, steely tones rather than shrieking hysteria. Hers is an utterly convincing performance. But her flaws are mitigated by a Hollywood soft spot: Miranda's soullessness is essentially blamed on the obstacles women face in a male-dominated work force.

The movie does, however, admit that Miranda made a choice, sacrificing all healthy relationships for professional gain, and the film makes a mildly convincing case for staying true to one's values. But parents of adolescent fans of the Princess Diaries should know that Andy's values do not prevent her from living with her boyfriend or getting involved in other sexual relationships.

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