A conflicted underling takes on a fashion devil at the Columbia City Cinema

"The Devil Wears Prada" has been adapted from Lauren Weisberger's payback novel, in which she skewers her onetime employer Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of fashion bible Vogue, for all her sins against humanity - and especially Lauren. Good-hearted fashion schlub Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway) signs on as newest slave-assistant to fashion goddess Miranda Priestley (Meryl Streep) and suffers the agonies of the damned under her icy, tyrannical rule. In the course of the film, the sweet young thing is tempted by the glamorous hell of which her demonic boss is queen.

Streep strides and glides through the corridors of fashion-mag power in fabulous ensembles, her face a gorgeous mask framed by a perfect silver bob, her voice as whispery and controlling as a cobra's hiss. A mistress of surface non-reactivity, Miranda does not, by word or glance, play by the rules of conversational give-and-take. She remains still, sealed within herself and her own desires, unresponsive to the hungry smiles and guile of those around her. This isn't a hard woman with a heart of goo who will ultimately be touched by her bright, eager-to-please Girl Friday - though, Narcissus-like, she comes to see a viable reflection of herself in Hathaway.

"Prada"'s moral dialectic failed to inspire me, primarily because the corruption of Hathaway's Candide looked like heaven and her goody-two-shoes notion of the authentic life looked pretty phony. Dressing up in haute couture under the witty tutelage of Stanley Tucci (just terrific as Priestley's righthand man), attending celebrity parties in New York and fashion shows in Paris ... all this softened the onerousness of Hathaway's indentured servitude.

The sexy, slightly venal writer (Simon Baker) who wants to introduce his new conquest, a budding journalist, to a New Yorker editor? Hard to take, I know, but seems as if sacrifices could be made. And, saintly to a fault, Hathaway's whiny proletariat pals - including her boyfriend ("Entourage"'s Adrian Grenier), who acts as if he's still in high school - don't really provide a viable counterbalance to all the goodies the Wicked Witch of the West Side and her minions have to offer.

"The Devil Wears Prada" is a harmless jeu d'esprit, undemanding entertainment for a summer evening. But the film's conflicted view of its titular heroine warrants a second thought or two.

Miranda Priestley's a priestess of a kind, charged with defining standards of style, taste, beauty in her "brave, new world." Unforgiving, almost entirely self-sufficient and therefore solitary, an icon of power that transcends gender.

The Devil Wears Prada begins playing Aug. 18 at the Columbia City Cinema, 4816 Rainier Ave. S. Call 721-3156 for showtimes.

Kathleen Murphy may be reached via editor@sdistrictjournal.com.[[In-content Ad]]