Tuesday, November 1, 2011

From Prada to Nada

The Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge has led me to reflect on how amazingly universal Jane Austen's stories are, particularly considering how limited was the range of her own experience. Though she confined her topics to the very small world in which she existed, she captured quintessential truths about humanity, allowing her stories to cross cultural boundaries in an impressively fluid manner. For this challenge, hosted by Austenprose, I have watched two adaptations of Sense and Sensibility that set the tale outside of Regency England: Kandukondain Kandukondain, which I loved (read my review here) and From Prada to Nada. The latter is a very cute film, providing excellent entertainment while my daughter napped on a snowy afternoon, and though it kind of falls apart at the end, it is, nevertheless, a wonderful illustration of the remarkable pliability of Austen's novels.

Our story begins in Beverley Hills, where highly assimilated Nora (Camilla Belle) and Mary Dominguez (Alexa Vega) live pampered lives. Like the book, this movie starts with death - we learn that their mother died several years ago, and then their doting father suffers a similar fate, hurrying us into a funeral scene. Here the girls are surprised by the appearance of their illegitimate older brother, Gabe (Pablo Cruz), of whose existence they were previously ignorant. He has with him his girlfriend, Olivia (April Bowlby), who does justice to everything that is repulsive in Fanny Dashwood's character, and the two are quick to claim their share of the assets. Unfortunately for everyone, their father had apparently been in bankruptcy proceedings, leaving nothing but debt behind him. Nora and Mary take refuge at their aunt Aurelia's house (Adriana Barraza) in East LA, where Spanish is the native tongue and gun shots ring through the night. No Barton Cottage, but with time the girls come to consider it home.

Like all Elinors, Nora is pragmatic and focused, intent on getting her law degree. Like all Mariannes, Mary is spoiled and self-centered. Her Willoughby takes the form of a TA at her college named Rodrigo (Kuno Becker). He is, of course, thoroughly despicable, but the fact that Mary sees him as a means of regaining her old life style softens the blow he inflicts. Colonel Brandon's role is taken by Bruno, played by a shockingly sexy Wilmer Valderrama (where did little Fez go?), a brooding artist who lives across the street from their aunt. Though his back story is entirely eliminated, I really enjoyed his strong, silent portrayal of the brooding lover, even if I had a hard time understanding his attraction to Mary, who is horribly rude to him when they first meet. It would have been nice if his was a more developed character. The only male role that really receives a lot of attention is that of Edward Ferrars, a lawyer who hires Nora as a clerk, and his development is completely dependent on the intensity of feelings for Nora. Perhaps the most Latin aspect of this film, other than the setting, is the acute romanticism of the male roles. Depth and complexity are reserved for the ladies.

Though the movie is very cute and entertaining, as mentioned above the ending is not well composed. Austen's style of hurrying everyone along towards perfect happiness in the last chapter doesn't work well on film. It would have been much better if the filmmakers had spent more time making the conclusion realistic. As it is, the end feels like a fairytale, lacking in believability. I also wish they had included Wickham's repentance scene. Still, I would definitely recommend this movie to all Janeites. It is a fitting homage to the sweeping nature of Austen's endurance.