I caught The Devil Wears Prada in a tiny sixplex on a barrier island off the Florida coast -- in a galaxy far, far away from the Conde Nast death star. It was fun to watch Meryl Streep as a faux Anna Wintour -- a younger Julie Christie would have been perfect -- but for me, the most delicious thing about the movie is how subversive it is.
Stripped of its surface gloss, Prada is a show-biz chestnut: Innocent young starlet (Andrea, the editorial assistant) gets a small break in the big-time (Runway magazine), shows talent and grit, and is drawn into the glamour. Her sincere but schleppy boyfriend (a morose sous-chef) resents her new life, and her old friends whine that she's selling out. She even gets seduced by a lothario (a star free-lance writer who looks like a young Pete Hamill). But, in the end, she turns her back (literally) on Anna, gets back together with chef boy and signs on with Hollywood's idea of the Village Voice to do investigative stories about exploited janitors.
What's wrong with this picture? Simply that the world the movie evokes -- smart, attractive people in wonderful clothes, using their wits and talent under the exacting eye of a perfectionist boss at a best-in-show magazine -- is infinitely more appealing than the backwater Andrea flees to.
The immutable law of movie cliché demands that our heroine choose earnest, politically correct toil over the Runway rat race. But the camera doesn't lie: The slick magazine life challenges Andrea's wits, ingenuity, resilience and character. Having impressed the Devil herself, Andrea -- and everyone else in the audience -- knows that she's fated to be a Runway star. In the real world, she'd be back knocking on the Devil's door before you can spell Donatella.