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Fashionable Employment 

Right out of graduate school with my writing degree from the University of Iowa, I took a job as an assistant editor for a Chicago magazine covering the national food-service industry. I was working on a novel and would have loved a position as a film critic or in news, but that was what I could find. I was young, and the money was better than I would earn a year later as an instructor at UNO. I didn't know a thing about cuisine; I'd lived on hamburgers since high school. But I knew my grammar, and I could write a sentence, so I gave the professional world of the Chicago Loop a tumble. This personal history should have made me an appropriate audience for David Frankel's The Devil Wears Prada, but it didn't, entirely, because the picture ushered me into territory as alien as that on another planet. And, yes, that's because men are from Mars while women are from Venus.

Adapted by Aline Brosh McKenna from Lauren Weisberger's novel, The Devil Wears Prada (my wife had to tell me that Prada is a clothier and not a Russian daily), is the story of Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) a beautiful Midwestern girl who edited her college newspaper at Northwestern from which she's just graduated. Andy has moved to New York with her boyfriend Nate (Adrian Grenier), an aspiring chef, and has somehow managed to land an interview at Runway magazine, the first and last word in the world of fashion.

Several things are puzzling about this set-up. First, though Andy is supposed to be smart, she seemingly does no homework about the job she applies for. Second, though Andy wants to be a writer, she interviews for a job as the second assistant to Runway editor Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), the devil of the title. Andy's job at Runway doesn't even lead to a writing position. She runs out for designer coffee, fetches dry cleaning, locates books for Miranda's children, answers the phone and makes plane reservations. The only writing she manages is list-making for Miranda's endless stream of demands.

Third, in my Mars manly way, I was completely lost when all the employees at Runway began to sneer viciously at Andy's clothes, all of which looked perfectly presentable to me, right down to her pair of sensible shoes. Maybe this proves the old saw that women dress not for men but for other women. Fourth, given that Andy is tall and trim, I laughed at the pure ludicrousness rather than the attempted irony when Miranda calls Andy "the fat girl" and when Miranda's second-in-command (Stanley Tucci) dismisses her size six frame as "the new 14."

But get and take the job Andy does, and we are treated to an hour and a half of Miranda's treating her young assistant as if Andy's not worthy to breathe the air Miranda exhales. In this, until near the end, Meryl Streep is restricted but nonetheless brilliant. Her Miranda is not one to pitch fits or ever raise her voice even quite to normal conversational levels. Her attitude is one of withering contempt given over to tired resignation. You'd want to smack Miranda silly except that she'd be sure to destroy you by remarking, "Yes, of course, you're just exactly the kind of person who would do such a thing."

The Devil Wears Prada isn't very good at establishing Andy's motivation. She's an achiever, but she's working at a job that leads to nothing she wants to achieve. Still, the picture is slyly seductive -- of Andy, and the viewer too, as it gradually turns into a subtle rumination about ambition and professional ethics. Andy doesn't want to fail, even if the long hours she must work cause her to neglect Nate and her other friends. And one of the perks of Andy's job is that she gets freebies of all the latest fashions from all the world's greatest designers. Andy starts dressing up for work in part because that gives Miranda one less thing to be nasty about. But gradually she comes to enjoy both the snazzy clothes and the glamorous circumstances from which they arise. She likes being around the rich, famous and powerful. And when the chance comes to accompany Miranda to Paris for the world's premier fashion show, she's willing to betray a co-worker for the opportunity. In Paris, Anne Hathaway's huge, gorgeous eyes are perfect to capture Andy's wonder and delight.

The end of The Devil Wears Prada is particularly well executed. It manages to humanize Miranda, maintain Andy as our heroine, cater to the common desire for a sweetly safe denouement and suggest, with artful cleverness, that Andy has not emerged from Runway experiences unchanged. Watch that ending carefully. Every detail, every uttered syllable, is critical. A purse isn't necessarily a Gucci just because that's what it says on the tag. Even a Mars man knows that much about the Venus world.

click to enlarge Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) breaks in her new assistant - Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) in  The Devil Wears - Prada. - BARRY WETCHER
  • barry Wetcher
  • Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) breaks in her new assistant Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) in The Devil Wears Prada.
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