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"From Prada to Nada" Is A Comedic Take On Austen

Christine Weitbrecht |
January 30, 2011 | 12:31 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

From Prada to Nada (Lionsgate Films)
From Prada to Nada (Lionsgate Films)
Jane Austen’s timeless romantic dramas have already inspired two major modern-day adaptations: Amy Heckerling’s famous "Clueless" (1995) interpretation of "Emma," which moved the storyline of its 19th-century source material to Beverly Hills, and more recently, Gurinder Chadha’s Hindi film "Bride and Prejudice" (2004), which turned "Pride and Prejudice’s" conflicts of class into clashes of American and Indian culture.

This month, moviegoers are presented with a third contemporary adaptation: "From Prada to Nada," Angel Gracia’s take at "Sense and Sensibility," which stars Camilla Belle and Alexa Vega as the Mexican American versions of Eleanor and Marianne Dashwood.

Just like "Clueless" and "Bride and Prejudice," "From Prada to Nada" offers a more light-hearted interpretation of Austen’s inherently dramatic works. Nora and Mary Dominguez are two sisters living in Beverly Hills with their single father. Whereas Nora is a hard-working law student with a 10-year-plan and a strong sense of justice, Mary’s ambitions are focused on the shops on Rodeo Drive – and on men.

When their father suddenly dies, he does not only leave them with a mountain of debt, but also with an older half-brother named Gabe, whom neither of the sisters knew about.

Gabe’s wife does not hesitate to quickly take over the Dominguez mansion and to hound the sisters out of their childhood home in the process.

Penniless, Nora and Mary take refuge at their aunt’s home in East LA, and begin to rebuild their existence, struggling not only with financial obligations but also with their own heritage as Mexican Americans (or, by Mary’s definition, ‘American Mexicans’), an identity Mary would like to negate and Nora happily embraces.

As the events continue to unfold, both sisters have to learn that "not all that is glitter is gold," and that "not all that stinks is kaka" – both in life and in love. 

Throughout the entire film Gracia aims to stay very close to the story’s source material. Austen fans will find all of the relevant characters as well as all of the novel’s key events; however, sometimes it feels like the film is ultimately trying too hard to keep its faithfulness to the original.

Having decided on a comedic interpretation, some characters and plot developments appear stereotypical and superficial, particularly when juxtaposed to serious events that consequently look overly dramatic.

It seems that Gracia can't quite decide on the exact direction of his approach; situational comedy, romantic comedy and actual drama all offer some of their ingredients, creating an awkward mix that makes it hard for the viewer to relate to. 

"From Prada to Nada" tries to be everything at once within 107 minutes, but ends up falling short of all the genres it would like to cater to.

Thus, for the sake of creating a film that is not just a copy or adaptation but has an identity of its own, Gracia could have allowed himself a lot more freedom in his interpretation of Austen’s novel without disappointing his viewers in the least.

All in all, as a combination of the Beverly Hills and cultural settings from "Clueless" and "Bride and Prejudice," "From Prada to Nada" offers a pleasurable take on Jane Austen’s classic novel, but it does not break any new grounds. Both Austen-fans and non-fans the like will be able to find elements in the film that cater to their interests, and Angelenos will be happy to see a film that portrays not only the usual glamorous parts of L.A., but also the everyday Mexican American neighborhoods that have shaped the City of Angels’ unique character.

Reach Christine Weitbrecht here.

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