MOVIE REVIEW- Sadistic Streep: Over the top in <i>Prada</i>

What happens when Mean Girls grow up? They become mean women, of course, and some of them go to New York and find work in journalism or other fields where a lack of compassion is an asset. The bitchiest rise to the top, and in The Devil Wears Prada, that would be Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), the legendary editor of Runway magazine.

Described, not without admiration, as "a sadist, and not in the good way," Miranda can out-diva Diana Ross and all the Mariah-come-latelies who have followed in her wake. No one who values their job will refuse Miranda anything, whether they work for her or anywhere in the fashion industry, where "Her opinion is the only one that matters."

The film is based on Lauren Weisberger's best-seller, a lightly fictionalized account of the time she spent as assistant to Vogue editor Anna Wintour. Streep says she didn't base her character on Wintour but took what was in the script and ran with it. She's fierce, she's fearsome; if you can't be her, you don't want to be anywhere near her.

But she needs assistants to take care of details, so her mind can be free to rule the fashion world. Moving Emily (Emily Blunt) into the first assistant position leaves an opening at number two.

In comes fresh-faced Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway, following Lindsay Lohan more convincingly into the work force), recently graduated from Northwestern U. Having no interest in fashion (it shows!) but ambitions in journalism, she gets the job "a million girls would kill for."

Killing is easy; the job is hard. Miranda expects her assistants to be on call 24/7 and to follow the instructions she rattles off, finding answers elsewhere if they have questions. She assumes everyone from top designers to major airlines will revise their schedules on a moment's notice to suit her whims.

Andy's life has been simple until now. She has a boyfriend, Nate (Adrian Grenier), and two other friends, Lilly (Tracie Thoms) and Doug (Rich Sommer). Runway's art director, Nigel (Stanley Tucci), eventually takes her under his wing and gives her a makeover. He finds high-fashion samples that fit her despite her enormous size ("Six is the new 14," he warns her).

Andy still isn't interested in fashion, but she doesn't mind looking good. If she doesn't care about the job, it keeps her too busy to think. Eventually it comes between her and the people she does care about, as she sells her soul one piece at a time.

It's an ancient story, though told with men more than 99 percent of the time  It's more fun this way.

Director David Frankel, helming his first feature since the under-appreciated Miami Rhapsody more than a decade ago, keeps it fresh and fun. We're on Andy's side, but we can never totally hate Miranda, especially since Streep shows just enough cracks in her façade to earn herself a 14th Oscar nomination.

The Devil Wears Prada. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll find an underling to send out for coffee.