A Latina update of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, From Prada to Nada follows two sisters from Beverly Hills to the barrio where they sport up-to-the minute fashion and old-as-the-hills cultural values. Both Elizabethan England and Latin America cherish stories about virginal young women who can't tell a rake from a romantic hero but are doomed to fall hard either way. This shared tendency makes the interweaving of the storytelling traditions seem all but overdue-which isn't to say From Prada to Nada executes the marriage well, just that the premise seems well considered. Box office is hard to anticipate for this comedy, which didn't screen for press but joins a small procession of mid-grossing films aimed for an ethnic demographic.
Camilla Belle and Alexa Vega play Nora and Mary Dominguez, well-to-do Latinas who live in Beverly Hills and embrace their ethnicity on special occasions. After suffering the loss of their father (at least it happens quickly), the Dominguez girls take refuge in the house of their aunt (Adriana Barraza) in East LA. Suddenly poor but still pretty, Mary and Nora have more romantic options in the hood than we might expect. Sensibility is courted by a nice-guy attorney (Nicholas D'Agosto), but rejects him out of fidelity to her ten-year plan. Sense is pursued by a diplomat's son (a slippery José María Negri) and by a homeboy artist (a sizzling Wilmer Valderrama), each of whom prompts fear and fascination in turns. The girls connect with their roots but the subject of what precisely constitutes cultural identity gets only a passing glance. Mary can't decide if she's Mexican-American or American-Mexican (it seems worth noting the word "chicana" is never used). The on-the-(clown)-nose candor of the film's title echoes through every facet of it, but From Prada to Nada isn't a total loss.
The Dominguez girls, like the Dashwoods, are victims of their privilege; they've been sheltered extensively, which makes the exclusion of touchy material convenient and the film more appropriate for tweens. In a movie with female gang members and suggested prostitutes, I was surprised not to hear any actual profanity, but the lack of foul-language and the explicit emphasis on women's options makes clear the film's cultural borrowings; as expected, moral judgment falls hard on she who chooses poorly as neither social pressures or financial woes are ever a real concern for these characters. From Prada to Nada might appeal to tweens but word of mouth won't be nearly as strong as Austen's parlor gossip.
Cast: Alexa Vega, Camilla Belle, Wilmer Valderrama, Nicholas D'Agosto
Director: Angel Gracia
Screenwriters: Fina Torres, Luis Alfaro and Craig Fernandez
Producers: Gary Gilbert, Linda McDonough, Chris Ranta and Gigi Pritzker
Rating: PG-13 for brief drug use and a sexual situation
Running time: 107 min
Release date: January 28, 2011