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Give ‘The Devil’ its due

After years spent fighting for grades to get to the top of the class – or at least earn a diploma – college graduates must enter the workforce. Nothing says “welcome to the real world” like a boss who rewards a job well done with scathing insults and reduces employees to tears at the slightest disappointment. Often first jobs require paying your dues to the industry, but what happens when the toll to pay is your soul? The Devil Wears Prada conveys all of this in such a delightfully exaggerated way that makes one’s own Monday mornings seem a lot more bearable.

Based on the best-selling novel by Lauren Weisberger, The Devil Wears Prada chronicles the life of Andrea “Andy” Sachs (Anne Hathaway) during her year at Runway magazine as junior assistant to its notoriously harsh editor in chief, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep). Though Andy knows nothing about fashion, she takes on the job after hearing that working one year for Miranda would land her a job anywhere she wants in the print world. What follows are grueling, 14-hour-plus workdays where Miranda tests her employees by ordering them to do nearly impossible tasks, such as picking up the manuscript for the yet-to-be-published Harry Potter book in less than four hours. Saying a task is impossible or failing to complete it results in a firing.

As Andy fights to keep her job, her social life begins to disintegrate. In the end, Andy must ask herself, which is more important: her career or her friends?

Rumored to be modeled after Weisberger’s stint as assistant to Vogue editor Anna Wintour, The Devil Wears Prada strips away the glossy cover of high-fashion magazines and reduces their glamorous offices to those of a designer-outfitted middle school cafeteria – filled with gossip and snide remarks meant to injure one person’s self-esteem while inflating another’s.

Just as some argue fashion magazines’ waiflike models and airbrushed faces can deteriorate a woman’s self-image, the film takes that stigma a step further by having characters refer to Andy – a size 6 – as “the smart fat girl” or stating the only way she’ll fit into a couture gown is with “some Crisco and fishing wire.”

While some comments come off as a mockery of weight-obsessed women – one character claims that she doesn’t eat until she feels faint, at which point she nibbles on a cheese cube – others appear more genuinely damaging to the teenage/young adult audience the film is marketed toward. Andy drops two dress sizes to better fit in with her coworkers, and so did Hathaway in preparation for the role.

“I read French Women Don’t Get Fat and followed all the advice,” Hathaway told “The thing I love about it is it’s not a diet book – I just watch certain things.”

Similar to her nerd-turned-knockout transformation in The Princess Diaries, Hathaway earns her coworkers’ respect by transforming her image. While in the earlier film her geeky demeanor is so embellished it becomes cheesy, this time around Hathaway comes off more as a misguided woman who’s sick of being the butt of everyone’s jokes. While her highly stylized new image turns heads, it also pushes away those she loves, as she slowly becomes a true “Runway girl” – a Miranda-obsessed slave to the magazine.

One mantra is repeated incessantly throughout the film, constantly reminding disgruntled employees that “a million girls would kill for this job.” It’s like a form of brainwashing – if they want to get into a position of power, they have to stick with the job.

Though for the bulk of the film Miranda appears to be a selfish witch bent on destroying others’ lives, in the last thirty minutes she becomes more relatable, almost pitiable. In one scene Streep, wearing a simple robe, bravely bares her cosmetics-free face – a complete departure from the character she’d played up until that point. In that moment Miranda reveals that yet another husband has left her, and her sadness that her daughters have lost yet another father figure.

It suddenly becomes obvious that Runway is her life; her ruthless demeanor is just her way of keeping the magazine running smoothly, because that’s the only aspect of her life that she can control. Though she is on top, she has to fight to stay there. Miranda craves power, and when that sense of ambition is as overwhelming as hers, there is no room for a balance of work and family life. It’s one or the other, and Andy must determine which takes the backseat in her future.

While the film had me thinking of dieting at its end, it also helped me on two different fronts: by putting my whining over job woes into perspective and reminding me to see the world beyond deadlines and climbing the corporate ladder. Ultimately, how much would I sacrifice for the sake of ambition?

The real world can be hell sometimes, but with the right outlook – and a good pair of Jimmy Choos, apparently – you can keep your cool.

Grade: A-

Running time: 106 mins.

Rated: PG-13