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June 29, 2006

'The Devil Wears Prada'
3 out of 5
As great an actress as Meryl Streep is, I got the feeling she was slumming in her latest movie, "The Devil Wears Prada," opening in theaters tomorrow. It's one of those roles where a character is defined more by the things other characters say about her than by her own actions. Consequently, this performance is more "She-Devil" or "Death Becomes Her" than "Sophie's Choice" or "Out of Africa."
That's not necessarily bad; it's just not what I'd expect from the big-screen adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same name. Every time the movie flirts with taking a different approach to familiar situations, it opts for the easy way out and ultimately says nothing new.
Streep plays Miranda Priestly, the successful editor of a leading fashion magazine. Yes, she's a brutal taskmaster, but never came off to me as mean as her underlings would have you believe. I found her more humorous than dangerous.
This made her few moments of vulnerability less effective because I felt all along she was really just a big pussycat.
When naÃive young college graduate Andy Sachs, played by Anne Hathaway, lands an assistant job with the "dragon lady," she's eventually forced to compromise her values as she's sucked into the glamorous world of high fashion. At first she's the outsider who doesn't fit in, much less even wants to fit in. It's kind of fresh that the reason for her change is to prove that she can do it, but not so fresh that she denies all along the way that she's changing.
As if we can't figure it out, we have her boyfriend and other friends to tell her how awful she has become. These scenes are the weakest and least interesting of the entire movie. The office scenes and interactions with Streep are the strongest. Regardless of what is lacking in "The Devil Wears Prada," it is very funny and entertaining. It's the cinematic equivalent of whipped cream: pretty tasty, but awfully light and fluffy.
Stanley Tucci shines as Priestly's artistic director. First cold toward Andy, he eventually befriends her and helps transform the ugly duckling into the beautiful swan. Like everything else in the movie, his performance starts out fresh, then falls into familiarity. His feel-good scenes with Andy are similar in tone to the entirety of "Legally Blonde."
Faring best is Emily Blunt as Emily, Priestly's top assistant. She stands out because unlike every other character, she begins as a stereotype but actually matures during the course of the movie into someone we don't expect. I grew more sympathetic to her than any other person in the movie.
Directing chores are handled by David Frankel, whose experience is primarily from television. Had I known he directed several episodes of "Sex & the City," I wouldn't have expected as much from "The Devil Wears Prada." In a way, though, that makes it even more disappointing: there are episodes of that show far more memorable than this movie will ever be.
As alternative programming for "Superman Returns," I suppose "The Devil Wears Prada" serves its purpose. But for romance, it can't come close to the relationship between Clark Kent and Lois Lane. And as far as their villains go, Miranda Priestly is a pale comparison to Lex Luthor. The one thing they share? Their costumes. Both movies' lead characters enjoy dressing up, although one of them shops on the planet Krypton.
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Jeff Owens is co-owner of Couch Potato Video in De Soto and an avowed movie buff.

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