Dir: Angel Gracia. US. 2010. 107mins


Though one always welcomes films set in Los Angeles that venture beyond the usual intersections of Hollywood and Beverly Hills, From Prada To Nada is a rather anaemic look at the lives and loves of two rich Mexican-American girls who must relocate to gritty East Los Angeles after their father’s death. A contemporary Latino take on Jane Austen’s Sense And Sensibility, this romantic comedy suffers from a pervasive sitcom-level sense of humour and spotty performances.

Director Angel Gracia utilises the fundamental elements of Sense And Sensibility to examine the Mexican-American experience in one of the United States’ biggest cities.

This Lionsgate offering boasts little star power and will be only a niche player theatrically, although it could catch on with Latino audiences. A more likely proposition, however, is that the film becomes a modest but sturdy performer in ancillary markets.

Nora (Camilla Belle) and Mary (Alexa Vega) are two very different sisters living in Beverly Hills: Nora is a hard-working law student; Mary is a shallow, spoiled shopaholic. But their world of privilege collapses once their father dies, forcing them to move in to their aunt’s (Adriana Barraza) house in the poorer section of East Los Angeles.

Making his feature debut, director Angel Gracia utilises the fundamental elements of Sense And Sensibility to examine the Mexican-American experience in one of the United States’ biggest cities, where the battle between assimilation and preserving one’s cultural heritage can divide families. But this tension, mostly presented through Mary’s utter embarrassment of her Mexican roots, is given only a superficial treatment that never goes beyond lip-service bromides.

As for the development of the love stories for Nora and Mary, which are major components of Sense And Sensibility, they too seem needlessly generic, the romances more cutesy and jokey than truly captivating or swoon-worthy. In part, the problem lies in a screenplay that has all the depth of a tween comedy, emphasizing types rather than real characters.

But some of the fault also has to go to the actors, who despite their general attractiveness don’t have the charisma to generate much audience empathy. Belle overdoes Nora’s neurotic sweetness, but she works well off her potential beau (played with aw-shucks charm by Nicholas D’Agosto), although their courtship feels too schematic.

Undoubtedly a low-budget affair, From Prada To Nada sadly isn’t an example of making the most out of a little, with both the lensing and makeup conspiring to give the actors a flat, unappealing look. From Prada To Nada is that rare mainstream film made largely for and by Latinos, which is perhaps why it’s all the more disappointing that it’s so threadbare both visually and emotionally.

Production companies: Televisa, OddLot Entertainment, Gilbert Films, Hyperion Films

Domestic distribution: Lionsgate, www.lionsgate.com

Producers: Gigi Pritzker, Linda McDonough, Rossana Arau, Gary Gilbert, Lisa Ellzey

Executive producers: William Lischak, Fernando Perez Gavilan M., James M. McNamara, Benjamin Odell, Deborah Del Prete

Screenplay: Fina Torres, Luis Alfaro, Craig Fernandez, from Jane Austen’s Sense And Sensibility

Cinematography: Hector Ortega

Production designer: Anthony Rivero Stabley

Editor: Bradley McLaughlin

Music: Heitor Pereira

Website: www.frompradatonadamovie.com

Main cast: Camilla Belle, Alexa Vega, Wilmer Valderrama, Nicholas D’Agosto, April Bowlby, Kuno Becker, Adriana Barraza