Friday I went to see From Prada to Nada, a modern Latina spin on Jane Austen's classic Sense and Sensibility. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the movie was much better and more entertaining than I thought possible, and it succeeded in translating the characters and major story beats from Austen's novel more successfully and more thoroughly than I expected. Great cinema this isn't by any stretch, but if you're looking for a fun diversion to while away a few hours I can definitely recommend this flick.
Sisters Nora (Camilla Belle) and Mary (Alexa Vega - remember the Spy Kids movie? LOL) Dominguez have grown up privileged and beloved in west L.A., the center of their father's world after the death of their mother in a car accident years earlier. Though sisters, they couldn't be more different - Nora, our modern-day stand-in for Elinor, is a bookish law student, more concerned about others than the latest fashions or shopping sprees. Mary, our flighty modern-day Marianne, can think of nothing but shopping or men. When their father suddenly dies, they are shocked to discover 1) that they're completely broke and 2) that they have a brother, Gabriel (Pablo Cruz), the product of an affair their father was involved in years earlier. Gabriel brings with him a blonde, plastic Barbie-doll of a wife - Olivia (April Bowlby), who commences with remodeling their beloved home, alienating them at every turn, and finally driving Nora to leave, dragging her sister with her to their aunt's home in east L.A. (oh the horrors!).
Their aunt, Aurelia (Adriana Barraza), was hilarious. She was fiesty and sassy, fiercely loyal to family, and determined to teach her privileged nieces how to live in the "real" world - i.e., with less. One of her neighbors is Bruno (Wilmer Valderrama), whose reticence and rough manner hilariously freak Mary out, convincing her he's some sort of gang member. As a modern-day Colonel Brandon, I thought the Bruno character worked extraordinarily well. I loved the little things he was always doing to help out Mary (the car mirror! loved it!) or her family, and how in spite of her near constant rudeness he would just roll his eyes in exasperation. And it doesn't hurt that Valderrama is quite the hunk, either. :) Bruno was definitely one of my favorite characters in the film, and I thought it was interesting that his romance with Mary became my favorite. Despite the change in culture and time period, there's apparently no denying the hold the Marianne/Brandon romance has on my heart in any form.
Olivia's brother Edward Ferris (Nicholas D'Agosto) is a lawyer, as kind and genuine as his sister is fake and self-absorbed. D'Agosto is absolutely adorable, and his Edward starts out with what seems like more gumption, I guess you could say, than his book counterpart which I really liked since Edward has a history of annoying me. After all he's already established in his career. I really liked how he had the chance to develop an actual relationship with Nora when she brings a pro-bono case to his law firm which they bring to a successful conclusion. The critical moment for their romance, when Nora turns down Edward's declaration of love because she has to focus on her career, felt more than a little contrived however. And the fact that Edward proceeds to cave immediately and get engaged to Lucy (Karla Souza) was a bit of a disappointment, given the character's stronger nature in the first half of the film. In spite of some disappointment with how the Edward and Nora storyline plays out, I was pleased with the resolution of it - I thought it was extremely sweet the way Edward bought a house in down the street from Nora's aunt as a wedding gift. This is a guy to whom class or position means nothing, and the hopeless romantic in me couldn't help but cheer a little.
Willoughby is transformed into a womanizing teaching assistant at Mary's college named Rodrigo (Kuno Becker). The movie does perhaps an even better job of making this character appear up-front when he's first introduced - since no one else knows him, there's no history to cast a shadow of doubt on his character. Mary's wake-up call was extremely realistic and heart-wrenching. She views Rodrigo as a savior for her old lifestyle, and once she sleeps with him she's a complete goner, certain they'll be married. When she discovers his duplicity at Edward's engagement party and meets his wife, it's a sad wake-up call for her. I liked how the filmmakers translated Mary's moment in the rain into modern day terms - her she gets into a car wreck in a downpour while fleeing from Rodrigo and the party. And Bruno couldn't be more romantic - though he doesn't visit her in the hospital, he's busy re-vamping her aunt's home so she can get around easily in her wheelchair while she recovers - and this after having his heart stomped on. Bruno/Brandon, I love you. :)
One major change to the Sense and Sensibility storyline involves Nora and Mary's brother Gabriel. He apparently grew up convinced that his father had abandoned him, never interested in a relationship, and that gives his character some real family baggage. He wants a sense of family but isn't sure how to relate to Nora and Mary, until Nora discovers a packet of letters to Gabriel among their father's papers that had all been returned to him by Gabriel's mother, unopened. So by the end of the film, and after this revelation, Gabriel splits from his horrid materialistic and annoying wife, and starts spending more time in east L.A. getting to know his sisters. I thought it was a nice twist to the sibling storyline - I always wanted the brother to have more interest in taking care of his family.
If you can get past the rather "jerky" camera work (it was almost like they were trying to give this movie a documentary-style feel, which was odd), From Prada to Nada is a cute, warm-hearted modern-day take on a Jane Austen classic.
This review marks my first entry in the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge.