Meryl Streep has fun as Miranda Priestly, the nasty-as-heck editor of Runway magazine, a Harper's Bazaar-type fashion rag. She's fired her last two assistants and seeks more cannon fodder. Enter Andy (Anne Hathaway), who aspires to be a news journalist but would rather work an inane, non-journalistic job at Runway instead of at a car magazine. When she shows up for an interview in street clothes, she's maliciously teased by Emily (Emily Blunt), Miranda's senior assistant, and pretty much any snooty employee who spies her in the hallway.
When Miranda sees Andy with her frumpy hair and flat shoes, she sees a change from the norm and decides to give her a shot. Rather than scooping stories and editing copy, Andy is answering the phone, booking flights for Miranda and retrieving Starbucks. When it's made clear to her by her fellow employee and mentor by default, fashion director Nigel (Stanley Tucci), that she's not really, really trying to do the job, Andy decides to sell out and become a fashion whore.
She changes her hair, wears fancy shoes and loses some weight, transforming herself from an honorable sort into a selfish workaholic. Her boyfriend, Nate (Adrian Grenier of Entourage), mopes, because he's basically a selfish bastard who isn't willing to take one for the team while his girl struggles through a tough gig. Grenier is a good actor, but he's saddled with the typical whiny beau role.
Streep has some sinister fun as the soulless Miranda, and it's regrettable she doesn't get more screen time. (She's almost a supporting player.) When the movie focuses on her, it works best, because Streep has command of her role even when the script cops out. Hathaway is required to carry the picture, and she's not up to the task. She seems like a sitcom-type performer to me, an actress who relies on exaggerated looks and gestures. She's likable and talented in a way, but she lacks the depth to qualify her as a great actress.
Director David Frankel doesn't seem to know if he's making a mean, scathing satire of the cutthroat fashion magazine industry or an uplifting saga of a young woman experiencing growing pains in New York. The film works best when it is mean, and Streep's character is allowed to be relentlessly evil. The character of Miranda doesn't need a final decent act to redeem her, yet the script gives her one. There comes a point in the movie when the film is striving for sympathetic, feel-good moments, and it feels false.
The movie is at its most ridiculous when Miranda tells Emily to get the latest, unpublished Harry Potter book for her twin girls. It's the sort of silly crap that takes you out of a film that seems to be dealing in realistic terms. A lowly assistant seriously trying to find J.K. Rowling's latest before it is even printed is just a crock.
If you are a fan of the book, or you love pretty dresses, you'll be just fine with The Devil Wears Prada. It's almost worth seeing for the Streep performance, but that Streep performance is also frustrating, because the picture surrounding it is so inferior. The movie seems to be afraid of itself, afraid to stay true to its nasty heart. In the end, what starts as a bitingly funny look at workaholics winds up being rather sappy.
As for Hathaway, The Princess Diaries 3: Eat My Tiara beckons.