From Prada to Nada made $3.3 million at the box office, both foreign and domestic. I’m surprised to read that it was that much. I happened to watch the film on Netflix this past weekend when I had nothing better to do than wash clothes.
The notion of a remake of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and plucking Marianne and Elinor Dashwood from Barton Cottage and landing them in 21st Century L.A. intrigued me, for Emma Woodhouse’s move from tranquil Highbury to a Beverly Hills high school in Clueless was a resounding success with both critics and viewers. I also liked the idea of switching up cultures, for hadn’t Ang Lee’s hit, Eat Drink Man Woman, been successfully transformed into the delightful Tortilla Soup with its Mexican-American family substituting for the Japanese chef and his daughters? But I quickly came to the conclusion that From Prada to Nada is to Jane Austen what a black velvet painting is to the Mona Lisa.
Here then is the story:
Once upon a time in Beverley Hills there lived two very pretty girls in a house called Bonita Casita. They had a Papa but no Mama.
One was short and ditzy, liked to shop, and wore party dresses morning, noon, and night. Her name was Mary Dominguez (MD = Marianne Dashwood).
The other was a tall, practical, intellectual, wannabee lawyer named Nora (Elinor Dashwood). While exotically beautiful, she suffered from a fatal Hollywood condition called orange skin. This viewer suspects it was to make her look more cliched Mexican, but should I really be so cynical? Mary had this condition to a lesser extent, and both girls swung from looking tanned to grossly ill, depending on lighting conditions.
Neither girl spoke Spanish, a fact that was mentioned often until it was pounded into the viewers’ brains.
While celebrating his birthday with his daughters, Papa falls flat on his face and dies, leaving the two bewildered girls penniless, for everything he seemingly owned belonged to the banks. The girls must move from their cozy environment in 90210 to a tacky neighborhood in East L.A., which is like asking a Swiss palace guard to work in a Columbian prison on short notice.
Before that indignity, they meet their half-brother, Gabriel, a surprise from their papa’s past, who arrives for the funeral with his cheesy avaricious girlfriend, Olivia. It seems that bro and his tootsie want to renovate Papa’s mansion and sell it for a profit. In other words, bro flips houses for a living. Real class.
Without a living breathing mother to guide them, as Jane Austen had intended, Maria and Nora have nowhere to go but to their good-hearted aunt’s house all the way over to a neighborhood filled with barrios, gangstahs, and, worse, taco joints. There the girls encounter Bruno (Colonel Brandon) a handsome darkly Latino who obviously did not attend Beverly Hills High.
He’s friendly, but Mary snubs him, for she begins to suspect that he works for a living and that she must share a bedroom with her sister. (Not that the two facts have anything to do with each other, but my sentence is no crazier than the plot of the film.)
In rapid succession From Prada to Nada throws at least one cliche per minute at the viewer, including a small sweat shop in Auntie’s living room, bad girls in the neighborhood, and clothes and interiors that could have been created by Agador (Armand and Albert’s gay Cuban houseboy in The Birdcage). How could this movie stand a chance with intelligent viewers when charactes are named Bad Guy #s 1-3, Comrade, Fiesta guest, and Chola (urban dictionary definition: the girl my brother gets pregnant)?
I imagine that people living in East L.A. were horrified to see Jane Austen’s fine tale mangled and twisted beyond recognition.
The movie stumbles towards its inevitable cliched ending. Edward Ferris falls instantly for Nora and gives her a splendid job in his law firm. They part and then they come together for no reason that I can fathom, except that he is always coming around the house with a truck filled with big items.
Mary falls head over heels (instead of twisting her heel in the English countryside) for a tutor named Rodgrigo Fuentes, Willoughby’s stand in. He eventually visits Mexico then dumps her and purchases Papa’s hideously renovated mansion from her flipper bro.
Flipper bro turns out to be a nice guy, as does Bruno, who happens to be an immensely talented artist living in the body of a mechanic. For some reason, after her car accident Mary totally flips for the ever patient, long-suffering Bruno, who was able to see past her materialistic ways the moment he met her.
After I finished watching this movie, I realized I should have stayed in the basement with my laundry and read a good book as I waited for my washer and dryer to finish spinning. The producers of this clunker forgot one extremely important asset that no self respecting movie can do without: a well-written, intelligent script.
Not all the good intentions in the world of Latinizing Jane Austen, and thus making her more available to those who might otherwise be turned off by her English characters, can save a film so completely devoid of entertainment, originality and wit.
I imagine that Lady Catherine de Bourgh would have said of this film: “I take no leave of it. I send it no compliments. It deserve no such attention. I am most seriously displeased.” Amen to that.
Vic Sanborn oversees two blogs: Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen Today. Before 2006 she merely adored Jane Austen and read Pride and Prejudice faithfully every year. These days, she is immersed in reading and writing about the author’s life and the Regency era. Co-founder of her local (and very small) book group, Janeites on the James, she began her blogs as a way to share her research on the Regency era for her novel, which sits unpublished on a dusty shelf. In her working life, Vic provides resources and professional development for teachers and administrators of Virginia’s adult education and literacy programs.
This article was written for Jane Austen’s World and is used here with permission.