THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The boss from hell. We’ve all had one. Some of you may even have been one. (And you know who you are, you naughty little tyrants.) Lauren Weisberger certainly knew. The former assistant to Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour penned the roman a clef “The Devil Wears Prada.” A thinly veiled account of her on-the-job experience, Weisberger’s novel spent six months on the best-seller lists and became something of a literary phenomenon.

The inevitable film adaptation stars Anne Hathaway as Andy Sachs, a recent college grad and aspiring writer who is looking to get a foot in the door of the publishing world. She interviews for a job at a leading fashion magazine called Runway. The magazine’s snooty-but-powerful editor, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), laments Andy’s lack of fashion and (to her) shocking size six clothing, but hires her as a personal assistant anyway.

It doesn’t take Andy long to realize that working for Miranda is slightly less complicated than making a Gucci handbag out of a Ziploc and some duct tape. Miranda demands perfection but is vague about what exactly she wants. Andy constantly has to play a guessing game to figure out what she’s supposed to do. Miranda’s other assistant, Emily (Emily Blunt), is no help; her way of training Andy is via criticism and disdain. The only person remotely sympathetic is Nigel (Stanley Tucci), Miranda’s right-hand man. He helps Andy create a more fashionable workplace image but also – in one of the film’s best scenes – chides her for complaining about the stresses of the job. After all, he tells her, you’re the one who wanted to work at Runway.

The depiction of life at a fashion magazine is very funny. Andy starts calling her female co-workers “clackers” for the way their high heels make noise on the floor. (To wear flats would be unthinkable in this world.) Everyone is frantic all the time and no one wants to incur Miranda’s wrath. The movie shows us a workplace where everybody’s job security depends on the whims of the boss. Since Miranda does not handle disappointment well – or at all, really – she can suddenly turn on anyone at any time for any reason.

And yet the story has respect for what Miranda has created. “She’s just doing her job,” Nigel says at one point, and he’s probably right. The Runway empire was built on her fierce determination and refusal to accept anything less than greatness. She is allowed to abuse such power because her fashion instincts are right on. At some level, Andy has something in common with her dragon lady boss: she wants to be the best at what she does and she won’t let herself give up.

This quality ultimately leads to an unraveling of her personal life. Andy gets swallowed up by the requirements of the job. She becomes a round-the-clock slave to Miranda, which means less time with her friends, family, and boyfriend Nate (“Entourage” star Adrian Grenier). “When your whole life goes up in smoke, that’s when it’s time for a promotion,” is how Nigel puts it. By this measure, Andy is quickly working her way up the ladder.

”The Devil Wears Prada” is not just a comedy about working for a bad boss, although that’s a big part of it. The movie is also about what it takes to succeed. Great success often comes with a great price. Miranda – with several marriages and plenty of enemies behind her – already knows this and, more importantly, accepts it. Andy, on the other hand, isn’t so sure that she wants to pay the price. The plot combines both sides of the plot during a trip to Paris for fashion week where Miranda and Andy both experience crises. It’s interesting to see how they each handle their own situation.

Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep are both very good in their roles, and their combined efforts make “The Devil Wear Prada” enormously fun to watch. Wearing a gray wig and a perpetual sneer, Streep personifies everyone’s worst nightmare of a pompous fashionista while still making the character seem like an actual human being. Hathaway, meanwhile, brings different levels to her character’s dilemma. The actress shows how Andy is initially appalled by Miranda’s outrageous demands, but is also seduced by the challenge of trying to meet them.

My favorite performance comes from Emily Blunt, a newcomer to these shores. Her character is a veteran in the Miranda Priestly wars. She’s generally figured it all out and is biding her time until rewarded with a trip to Paris and free designer clothes. Andy poses a direct threat to her; after all, when a person is juggling so many balls at once, there’s no time to teach the process to someone else. Blunt brings a great comic sarcasm to the role. It’s one of those attention-grabbing performances that makes you stop and say: “Who is this actress?”

There are not really any surprises in the film’s plot. You can kind of tell which direction it is going in. I’m also not sure about a subplot involving a famous writer (Simon Baker) who tries to romance Andy; it doesn’t really go anywhere significant. However, screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna has penned a smart script and director David Frankel provides a breezy pace. In today’s world, more and more people are trying to balance professional success with personal happiness. “The Devil Wears Prada” is a clever, funny look at the way we sometimes risk selling our souls in the name of success.

( out of four)

The Devil Wears Prada is rated PG-13 for some sensuality. The running time is 1 hour and 49 minutes.

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