Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway deliver commanding performances in The Devil Wears Prada, which marks its 15th anniversary.
This is a film that really shows us what it means to be a personal assistant. For better or worse, assistants can go through a personal hell just to still be employed at the end of the day. Lauren Weisberger draws on her personal experiences working for Anna Wintour at Vogue in the semi-biographical novel of which the film is based. Northwestern graduate and aspiring journalist Andrea “Andy” Sachs (Anne Hathaway) is hired as a personal assistant for Runway editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep). It’s not her dream job and while “millions of girls would kill for” the position, Andy plans to stay just long enough to where she can move on as a writer.
Andy doesn’t really get along with anyone at first, not even senior assistant Emily Charlton (Emily Blunt). Miranda even deliver’s one of the key monologues about Andy’s cerulean sweater when Andy points out two belts are the same. It takes art director Nigel Kipling (Stanley Tucci) to more or less take Andy under his wing. It’s like she’s become Andy 2.0 at the office. Andy puts in more effort into her work and definitely makes a change in the wardrobe she starts wearing to work. At one point, there’s a montage of scenes where it’s just a way to show off the costumes. Anyway, this brings Andy more work but complications in her relationship with chef boyfriend Nate (Adrian Grenier).
Before Andy started working for Runway, Emily was fully planning to attend Paris Fashion Week. You could argue that the two assistants have somewhat of a rivalry going on. Miranda rewards Andy with the Paris trip after saving the day at a benefit party. Things don’t go so well between Andy and Emily. When Andy tells Nate the news, it spells doom for their relationship–at least for the time being. Following office politics and Paris, Andy finally realizes her dream and starts working as a journalist. This comes with no less than a recommendation from Miranda herself!
There’s a subplot involving another writer, Christian Thompson (Simon Baker). He saves the day for Andy when it comes to getting an unpublished manuscript for her kids.
There are good adaptations of books and then there are bad adaptations of books. The Devil Wears Prada is one of those adaptations that you’ll find in the upper tier. It’s the type that would make novelist Lauren Weisberger proud. Aline Brosh McKenna’s script provides justice to the book, even improving it, and we get splendid direction from David Frankel. Honestly, the fact that McKenna strays a bit from the book and focuses in on Andy and Miranda may have saved the film. While the film is a workplace comedy, other studios might have wanted a romance at the center. Andy has her boyfriend and then there’s Christian but the romance involved is nothing like major studio rom-coms.
But at the end of the day, this is a film that lives or dies on account of the actors. Thankfully, all of them are working in top-notch. Meryl Streep and Patricia Field’s costume design would both earn Oscar nominations. The costume design alone is well deserved given that the wardrobe was worth at least a million. Okay, I also have to give credit to film editor Mark Livolsi. Livolsi makes a number of montages work wonderfully but also cut a few scenes that just didn’t work for the story. His work would earn him an ACE Eddie Award nomination. If the Academy had allowed for more than five films, the film could have joined Little Miss Sunshine as a Best Picture nominee. Comedies never really get their fair share when it comes to Best Picture but I can dream.
No doubt that Streep delivers one of the top-tier performances of her career but let’s talk about Emily Blunt. In a supporting performance, Blunt manages to steal the show. In another world, she would have been four years away from taking up the mantle as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow. Alas, Fox picked up her option and she ended up doing Gulliver’s Travels. The rest is history but there’s no way her career isn’t the same without this film. But of all this notwithstanding, I love the humor that Blunt brings to her performance. Sure, anyone could play the role but Blunt plays it in a scene-stealing and star-making fashion.
If the Academy gave out Oscars to career-changing performances, Streep, Hathaway, and Blunt are all deserving of one. Two years later, we saw Streep singing and dancing in Mamma Mia!. Hathaway would go onto an Oscar-nominated performance in Rachel Getting Married and take home an Oscar for Les Miserables. In an alternate universe, it could have been Rachel McAdams in the role. Blunt, of course, saw her career change immediately upon release.
When you think of the final years of Fox before the Disney acquisition, The Devil Wears Prada is one of the standout films–they don’t make them like they used to. More than this, The Devil Wears Prada is the type of film that one can imagine being greenlit by the likes of Darryl F. Zanuck. Films of this nature are few and far between–I’ve studied a lot about Classic Hollywood during the pandemic so I feel wholly comfortable in saying this.
DIRECTOR: David Frankel
SCREENWRITER: Aline Brosh McKenna
CAST: Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Emily Blunt, Adrian Grenier