Working nine to five, what a way to make a living... especially if your employer is a 24-carat bitch who takes sadistic pleasure in demeaning, terrorising and humiliating her staff. A lot of us have had bosses who’d answer to that description, giving David Frankel’s adap of Lauren Weisberger’s semi-autobiographical chick-lit novel – inspired by her tenure under Vogue doyenne Anna Wintour – a pleasing sliver of vicarious wish-fulfilment. The real pleasure, though, is watching Meryl Streep brilliantly colour her glamorous gorgon with shadings of vulnerability, turning what could have been a coarse caricature into a fully realised tragi-comic creation.
The problem with having one of Hollywood’s foremost leading ladies at the peak of her powers is it tends to make everyone around her look pedestrian by comparison. Yes, we’re talking about you, Anne Hathaway, your considerable Princess Diaries charm and Julia Roberts choppers no match for Streep’s wrecking-ball of a performance. It wouldn’t matter, except we’re meant to feel for her callow ingènue as she toils at the rock face of her editor’s disdain, moving mountains to secure unattainable Harry Potter manuscripts and other quixotic requests. Sadly, the devil doesn’t just get all the best lines; she also leaves the picture for dead whenever she glides off-screen.
Compensations come from the to-die-for frocks and the always welcome Stanley Tucci, whose finely tuned turn as Streep’s waspish, gay-as-a-Christmas-tree aide-de-camp is hilarious. Another bit-player stealing scenes is rising British talent Emily Blunt, as a neurotic PA driven to distraction by the pressures of her size-two existence (“I’m on a new diet,” she reveals. “I don’t eat anything... and then when I feel like I’m about to faint, I eat a cube of cheese”). Even she, however, can only stand by as Streep spikes this lightweight frolic on the heel of her Jimmy Choo and turns it into a one-woman show.
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Like the world it celebrates, Prada is ultimately shallow. But marvellous Meryl adds an old-school charisma that never goes out of style.