It’s hard to imagine anyone hating From Prada to Nada, the new film from director Angel Garcia that gives Jane Austin’s Sense and Sensibility a modern day makeover. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone having a strong enough emotional reaction to the film to power a mood ring let alone elicit a verbal response greater than a “meh.” The film stars Camilla Belle and Alexa Vega as two posh Latina heiresses who discover the only thing they’ve inherited from their recently deceased father is a sizable debt. Tossed from their Beverly Hills mini-mansion, the two sisters are forced to move in with their aunt in her East Los Angeles house where they learn about their heritage while experiencing the same tumultuous relationship drama that has launched a thousand CW television shows’ season arcs.
It’s clear from a rough first act that director Angel Garcia took a while to get his footing. Making his theatrical film directing debut, Garcia was slow to develop a style or vision that set itself apart from any one of the other hundreds of low budget, teen-centric films that take their story’s marching orders from classic literature. While From Prada to Nada is not about teens, that overly pandered to demographic is the only conceivable type of person who might seriously enjoy the movie.
The two sisters, slow to adjust to their new overwhelmingly Hispanic surroundings, attempt to adapt in different ways. Nora (Belle) has a slightly easier time adjusting — finding work at a local law firm and quickly taking a shining to her new surroundings. Obsessed with putting her carefully planned life back on track, she fights off advances from Edward, a well-meaning young lawyer played by Nicholas D’Agosto. The romance between Nora and Edward is the type of slow boiling, thick edged emotional traipse that Nora Ephron could write in her sleep.
Meanwhile, Mary (Vega) has a considerably harder time adjusting to her surroundings — refusing to budge when it comes to her snobbish attitude regarding her culture. Despite romantic wooing from Bruno, a neighborhood vato with a heart of gold, Mary begins a steamy affair with a visiting junior professor from Mexico played by Kuno Becker.
Vega, who had a level of prominence as a child actor in the Spy Kids series of films, gives he all to the performance — mixing in a slosh of slapstick, a healthy heaping of Degrassi-esque melodrama and enough wild eyed energy to keep audiences’ attention focused on her performance. This is not an easy feat as the film’s cinematography seemed designed to distract viewers with continual auto-focusing, speed variations and unnecessarily saturated colors.
Belle, on the other hand, turns in a mostly lethargic performance — hiding behind nerd glasses instead of actually developing the studious, emotionally insecure character she was supposed to be playing. As the movie progresses, though, Belle, much like her character, seems to let her hair down and infuse a bit more personality into the role. While it would be easy to say this transformation is one designed for the character’s arc, the genuine improvement in Belle’s acting suggests a deeper, behind-the-scenes shift. Either way, by the time the movie ends, both Belle and Vega are firing on multiple cylinders — turning in pleasant performances that fit perfectly alongside their identical counterparts from teen movies past.
Former That ‘70s Show star Wilmer Valderrama casts of the metrosexual, effeminate characteristics of his breakout role and becomes nearly unrecognizable as Bruno, the physically bulked up cholo slow with words but quick with poetry. Anybody who has spent real time with kids from low income yet familiarly stable homes will be highly impressed by Valderrama’s realistic performance. Unfortunately, the role itself is a bit lacking.
From Prada to Nada is not concerned with breaking new ground. The story follows a very strict formula that has already been mined too many times before. Unfortunately for the cast and crew, originality was never in the cards for the movie. The contempt bred by familiarity is just a side effect of any movie that finds its spiritual guidance from a Jane Austin novel. When exposed to a story told time and time again, its an uphill battle for audiences to find something noteworthy or engaging to latch onto. Moviegoers will have to be very new to the moviewatching experience to find any real surprise or enjoyment from From Prada to Nada. Most will just be bored.
As an exploration of second-generation Hispanics exploring their heritage, From Prada to Nada comes close to offering up something profound or meaningful. There are several times the movie comes right up to being worthy of serious consideration or reflection — unfortunately, these moments are than squandered for a quick joke or washed away by a trendy teen beat pop song blaring over the soundtrack.
While From Prada to Nada isn’t a terrible film, it’s going to have a rough time connecting with anybody outside the select target audience that’s been craving Hispanic-flavored, teen-centric melodrama. Like a brown Tyler Perry film, From Prada to Nada does do a good job of showing that a growing culture such as the Hispanic populace are just as capable of making nationally-distributed teen movies that are as entertaining as an average trip to the laundry mat. Move over whitey, we’re taking over teen Hollywood, one montage set to a Katy Perry song at a time.
Director: Angel Garcia
Notable Cast: Camilla Belle, Alexa Vega and Kuno Becker
Writer(s): Luis Alfaro, Craig Fernandez and Fina Torres