"The Devil Wears Prada" makes you realize just how little a great actor needs to be great. Meryl Streep walks away with this one, deftly portraying Miranda Priestly, the maniacal editor of a fashion magazine named "Runway."
Otherwise, the film is nothing more than a self-congratulatory, candy-coated, piece of fluff.
It's not that the film doesn't work; its humor works well. But as a exposé on the fashion industry — the book it's based on was about on the author's experiences with the editor of Vogue — it's remarkably clean cut.
Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) comes to town to be a journalist with high ideals on what real news is; unfortunately for her, journalism is not the easiest profession to crack, so she is forced to take a job for Priestly.
In a fantastic opening scene, she is whisked into the building and told that "surviving" for a year with Priestly can get her a job anywhere. She gets insulted for her lack of fashion sense multiple times, thinks she loses the job, tries to get it anyway, leaves and then gets the job back. The story unfolds from there, with Sachs changing her lifestyle, fashion and view of the world in order to please Priestly's increasingly wild demands (i.e. get a copy of the new Harry Potter book before it is published).
Hathaway performs admirably against Streep, but at this point in her career is clearly outclassed. Luckily, she is supported by a great cast including Stanley Tucci and Adrian Grenier. It is clear Hathaway is going to be getting better and better as she lands bigger, more adult roles — her Audrey Hepburn beauty adds the perfect amount of naiveté to her role.
Most of the jokes and punchlines come from Streep's sarcastically cold performance and Hathaway's outsider status. But beyond these things, the film is trite. There is no real emotional punch to the story or its characters, just a sort of general glaze of prettiness that shines falsely like the pages of the latest issue of Vogue.
The real problem is not in the performances or the story; it's in the fact that the film wants to be a darker comedy but never gets into any of the darkness.
With such great performances from Streep, Hathaway, and Tucci it's a shame the film makers didn't want to try for the depth of a novel instead of the gloss of a magazine.