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From Prada to Nada

February 26, 2011
From Prada to Nada

If films aimed at predominantly black audiences are rare in Hollywood, those targeting hispanic audiences are all but nonexistent. So it’s refreshing and exciting not only to see one come out, but to find it as well-done as From Prada to Nada. Part of the secret is in choosing good source material; the film is among the better adaptations of the classic riches-to-rags story: Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

Nora (Camilla Belle) and Mary (Alexa Vega) are the two daughters of a wealthy family in Beverly Hills. Mary is the socialite — shopping on Rodeo Drive, tooling around in a brand-new Beamer, eye always on some boy. In a lot of ways she takes after the girls’ mother, whom they lost in a car accident when they were very young. Nora, for her part, is the studious one — devoted to her ten-year career plan to finish law school and set up shop serving the community. Relationships are a distant second to work for her, just as they did for her maiden aunt Aurelia (Adriana Barraza).

But then tragedy strikes; their father dies of a heart attack on his 55th birthday. And then at his funeral the girls learn that not only do they have a half-brother, Gabe (Alexis Ayala), from an affair their father had before they were born, but that he is entitled to a full third of their father’s estate. But that doesn’t matter quite so much, since everyone finds out that the estate is actually all but worthless. Before they know it, Gabe’s shrew of a wife (April Bowlby) has muscled in to remodel their childhood home to flip it and recover the debt. Nora and Mary are forced to move in with their aunt in East Los Angeles.

Formerly accustomed to wealth, the girls must adapt to scarcity for the first time in their lives. Of course this hits Mary the hardest — the menacing guy across the street (Wilmer Valderrama) gives her the creeps if nothing else — and she’s committed to hiding her situation and finding a way back to her former lifestyle. But it’s not exactly smooth sailing for Nora either. She must swallow her pride and take a paralegal job with her newfound brother-in-law, Edward (Nicholas D’Agosto). And her feelings for her new boss would put quite the crimp in her vaunted ten-year plan.

The film is capably made, doing justice to it’s source while embedding the story firmly within it’s new environment. Vega and Belle each span their own wide range, and each does so comfortably. Director Angel Garcia, for his part, sits back to capture the action with a minimum of fuss, though he does add a few touches of his own, like using his establishing shots to showcase the works of muralists like Judy Baca.

Is it the most original or inventive film in the canon? no. But it’s a solid, engaging, enjoyable movie nonetheless. Does it mirror every aspect of Austen’s novel? no. But does it really need to in order to be faithful to the spirit? If a movie like From Prada to Nada can make a classic story accessible to audiences that may not be literarily-minded anglophiles — or even anglo in the first place — then I, for one, am behind it all the way.

Worth it: yes.
Bechdel test: pass.

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