x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Movie review: From Prada To Nada

There is little sensibility apparent in this mocking culture-shock film about LA.

From Prada To Nada
Director: Angel Gracia
Starring: Alexa Vega, Camilla Belle
**

 

In the sunny hills of Los Angeles, two sisters live the high life, thanks to their rich father. Spoiled Mary (Alexa Vega) lives to shop, while studious Nora (Camilla Belle) is more sensible of the two, but no less pampered.

The pair's lives fall apart when their father suddenly dies, leaving them penniless after it emerges he was on the verge of bankruptcy. They have no choice but to move in with their aunt (Adriana Barraza), a feisty woman who lives in the poorer East side of LA. Ignorant of their Mexican heritage, to the point where they do not even consider themselves Mexican, the siblings learn to adapt to the colourful Latin community they are now a part of, and find love in the process.

From the moment Katie Perry plays and the camera pans past the palm trees of Beverly Hills, one can very easily see what is coming. This very loose modernisation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility has aspirations of being a 21st-century version of Clueless, itself a modern twist on an Austen novel, but instead becomes a formulaic and unmemorable comedy. The few serious moments in the film, particularly the father's death, are handled awkwardly and without much feeling, while the script tries to cram in as many brand names and pop-culture buzzwords as possible.

The links to the original novel are tenuous at best (although, to be honest, the target audience for this film will probably not care), and instead the plot veers towards a strange ethnic subplot, which is both confusing and needless. The idea that these girls have abandoned their roots, despite having a father clearly fond of Mexican culture, is improbable and sends mixed messages.

This is not helped by a plethora of stereotypes once the girls reach East LA, leaving the viewer unsure as to whether the filmmaker is trying to embrace multiculturalism or simply make fun of the differences between the communities.

Surprisingly, the character designed to be the most annoying is the most likeable. Alexa Vega, most famous as one half of Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids franchise, plays the Hollywood brat with aplomb, and works well with Barraza, who is good as the neighbourhood's "mother hen" but let down by the script.

Conversely, Camilla Belle should have been the sister the audience had sympathy for, but looks uncomfortable in her performance, unsure how to play her character, particularly opposite the energetic Vega. Wilmer Valderrama once again delves into ethnic typecasting, essentially playing the same brooding character he played in Larry Crowne, only with added "Spanglish".

Overall, From Prada to Nada is a predictable film that could have benefited from a little more thought and perhaps less reliance on clichés. It may provide distraction for a teenage crowd, but certainly does not stand up to the rich material that it draws upon.