Viewers familiar with Jane Austen’s Sense And Sensibility will recognize the general outline of the book in the “Latina spin” adaptation From Prada To Nada. But no one needs to read the book first to know how the story will end. From the moment each character is introduced, it’s obvious what role they’re meant to play, what life lessons they’ll be learning, and whether they’ll turn out to be heroes or cads in the end. And if there’s any doubt or hint of mystery whatsoever, it’ll quickly be cleared up with a bit of thudding summary dialogue like “So. You’re poor.” Or “We’ve joined the working class. Lame.”
Simply put, From Prada To Nada is Sense And Sensibility For Dummies, as set in modern-day Los Angeles. Camilla Belle and Alexa Vega play sisters who fall on hard times when their seemingly rich father dies, leaving them penniless. While denying their Mexican heritage and speaking no Spanish, they move from Beverly Hills to East L.A., where their endlessly forgiving aunt (Adriana Barraza) takes them into her house full of undocumented workers and homey Mexican aphorisms. Complications with various handsome men ensue: Spoiled, bratty fashionista Vega whines about giving up Rodeo Drive shopping and living in the scary barrio, not to mention the, like, total lameness of having to return to college, but chiseled teaching assistant Kuno Becker teaches her that books aren’t all bad. Meanwhile, Belle, whose severe glasses and peasant-chic clothing mark her as the smart, serious one, gets a law-firm job under her newly discovered brother-in-law (Nicholas D’Agosto), and pushes him into taking a pro bono case on behalf of several fired Mexican janitors she met on a bus.
The details and resolution of that case are comically simplistic, and so are the storylines, the scripting, and in most cases the acting. Many of the stars spit out their lines as if reading rapidly off a teleprompter instead of talking to each other, and they’re all playing for a Clueless level of arch, playful bounce in a script that doesn’t begin to have the necessary wit. From Prada To Nada has a bit of charm, but it mostly comes through disappointingly perfunctory lip service about the richness of Mexican culture, and a few authentically sweet moments between the sisters. But in spite of the hints of race, class, and social issues lurking in the background, this is a film carefully calculated to pass an hour and a half as predictably as possible, mildly satisfying a few people and offending none. It draws its storyline in broad strokes, but never bold ones.