‘From Prada to Nada’ marks a special occasion in film history since its release signals the coming of a new type of cinema into the Hollywood landscape – Hispanic American films for the US Hispanic. Pantelion, a new movie studio joint venture between Lionsgate and Mexico’s powerful Group Televisa, is the first major Latino Hollywood studio to enter into the foray of the $9 billion dollar box office US film industry. It’s purpose is to create culturally relevant Hispanic motion pictures, in English and Spanish, that include top-rated Latino actors, directors and writers. But it seems that this mission statement was only half met on their first cinematic effort.
‘From Prada to Nada’ is a modern twist on Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. It’s a riches to rags story of two spoiled sisters: Nora (Camilla Belle), a law student, and Mary (Alexa Vega), an undergrad party girl, living with their father in a luxurious mansion in Beverly Hills. Mary has become so “90210” she refuses to admit she is of Mexican descent. When dad suddenly passes away, their posh lives are turned upside down. They discover they have been left penniless and are forced to move into their estranged aunt Aurelia’s (Adriana Barraza) modest but lively home in the Latino-centric Boyle Heights neighborhood of East LA. They are terrified to leave their world of privilege, and terrified of their new thug neighbor with a heart of gold played by Wilmer Valderrama; neither Nora nor Mary speak Spanish or have ever had to take on actual responsibility. The girls gradually adapt to their new environment; their BMW and Prius are traded for the public bus and a used car. As they embrace the culture that for so long they refused to accept, they both discover the true meaning of their Mexican heritage and romance along the way.
Though it might not seem it at a glance, ‘Prada’ is carrying around a tremendous amount of responsibility and pressure to deliver a good film. Why? In part because historically, US Latino films have underwhelmed, disappointed and failed to meet the expectations of a hungry Hispanic moviegoing demographic, along with its press compeers. It seems that almost all Latino oriented films made never improve, better or advance the current state of Latino cinema in this country. Therefore, Hollywood producers take less risks in investing in movies that adhere to the culture, unless its obscenely stereotypical like Beverly Hills Chihuahua.
Hispanic American movies made in the United States live in a type of limbo where it’s not gritty, political, or intriguing enough to attract critical attention, as its South American counterparts do, nor do their production values rival its Hollywood peers.
Even though it’s not as embarrassing as the disgraceful ‘Chasing Papi’, it doesn’t deliver anything that can make you feel proud of the future of Latinos in Hollywood. I must confess that Alexa Vega is very good and better than a lot of actresses out there, period. She’s charming and pretty and delivers. Unfortunately she can’t carry this film all on her own.
‘From Prada to Nada’ is a DVD movie that should’ve gone directly to DVD and not via a theatrical release. You can see what I’m talking about at a Netflix near you.