FILM REVIEW ‌ The Devil I Know 

Streep creates an unforgettable villain

click to enlarge Meryl Streep, as fashion nazi Miranda Priestly, gives Anne Hathaway the what for
  • Meryl Streep, as fashion nazi Miranda Priestly, gives Anne Hathaway the what for
The Devil Wears Prada
20th Century Fox
Directed by David Frankel
Starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway
Rated PG-13

The thing that I know is gonna drive me crazy about listening to moviegoers talk about The Devil Wears Prada — and folks will be raving — is that they will be under the mistaken impression that this is farce, satire, exaggeration. Surely, they will say, no boss could be so hideous, no coworkers could be so heartless, no place of employment could be so demeaning ... not, surely, the pinnacle of New York magazine publishing. C'mon, these people will say, it's a parody of New York life, right?

So I'll say this, as a lifelong New Yorker who has worked in New York publishing for almost 20 years: Ha!

Lauren Weisberger, who wrote the novel upon which Prada is based, denies that "Miranda Priestly," the legendary queen bitch editor in chief of, ahem, Runway magazine, is a stand-in for legendary queen bitch Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue magazine. But Weisberger was Wintour's assistant for a spell, and the heroine of Prada is Andy Sachs, Miranda's new junior assistant, so you make the call. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the Miranda depiction, but I'll tell you this: When proud frump Andy calls all the stuck-up, anorexic fashionistas who work at Runway "clackers," for the annoying sound their stilettos make on the hard office floors, she's found a very generous euphemism for what they're really called in NYC media circles: Condé Nasties, after Condé Nast, the company that publishes Vogue and a slew of other slick books.

The deliciously mean and yet not totally heartless Prada makes an excellent show of demonstrating how even a cute preppie like Andy (the lovely Anne Hathaway) might get seduced into the shallow, selfish world of "clackers." And the fairly predictable spiral Andy descends over the course of the film, selling herself out and alienating her charming boyfriend, Nate (Entourage's Adrian Grenier), is, for all its inevitability, beautifully played and more than a tad touching. Not for the least reason that it's rare to see this kind of dynamic — workplace mentor and mentee — when it's women in the roles. Movies about professional women are so frequently not about their work — their jobs are merely window-dressing for romance stories. Here, though, it's about women making their way in a world where it isn't the prejudices of men holding them back but mostly just the usual bullshit that everyone striving to build or maintain a career faces. Women are fully human here, which is less than can be said for most movies about women.

But the supreme high point and most wickedly entertaining thing about this flick is Meryl Streep as Miranda. From the moment she hovers onto the screen — like, oh, the Wicked Witch in Snow White, pure seduction and pure evil all wrapped up in a fabulous wardrobe — Streep makes Miranda instantly one of the classic, iconic Hollywood villains. Streep doesn't scream — she whispers, figuratively and literally. She forces you to lean in to appreciate her, forces an intimacy that you cannot extricate yourself from ... we are drawn right along with Andy into her orbit, from which it is, of course, almost impossible to extricate yourself. Oooh, she's a nightmare to make your blood boil, with her impossible demands, and there are moments when you want to scream at Andy — who clings to this job believing, and probably rightly so, that it will be her ticket to any job in publishing, like a position at The New Yorker — to just freakin' quit already! Tell off Miranda and storm out of there! (God, just the secondhand catharsis would feel so good!)

But Streep's Miranda is never a caricature. And if you don't believe that, I hear the new high-tech Condé Nast headquarters building in Times Square is for sale, cheap.


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