Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Ready to Wear

(Prêt-à-Porter, 1994)

Many people, critics and everyone else, seem to really, really hate this film, and I’m not sure why. Just take a look at some of the user reviews at the IMDb. It is Robert Altman once again trying to re-capture the magic of Nashville, with its multiple story lines, very large cast, and lack of a real plot. He tried it earlier, with varying degrees of success, in A Wedding, Health, and Short Cuts, and would do it again brilliantly in Gosford Park. I can agree with the nay-sayers that it is not as good as some of those, and that it has its flaws, but it’s not all that bad.

The setting is the crazy world of fashion in Paris. Many real designers participated, thus exposing their travesties to many people, like myself, who had never seen very much of the idiotic things they put on models. At least half the stuff seems designed to make them look foolish, assuming anyone would actually be stupid enough to buy the outfits and wear them in public. Of course, much of their runway offerings are designed simply to be outrageous, to get your attention. It got mine. I wouldn’t be able to attend one of these shows, because I’d be laughing my ass off. That probably wouldn’t go over well with these fashionistas who would soon be writing vapid rubbish about how wonderful or terrible it all was.

For this movie, it might actually be easier to list the stars who did not appear in it, rather than the very long list of those who did. I won’t name them, as none of them really stood out from the others as having done a brilliant job. Oh, well, I will name Kim Bassinger, who seems to be re-creating the role Geraldine Chaplin had in Nashville, that of the clueless journalist trying to insert herself into every corner of the events. Chaplin was a Brit, Bassinger is from the American South. She gets more screen time than anyone else, and she does a good job.

The film famously finishes with a parade of totally naked models stalking slowly down the runway, to a flummoxed audience, including one woman who is about 8.999 months pregnant. But they soon adjust, giving the “designer” (fictional, in this case) a rousing reception. I think Altman’s point was that these people are so shallow that they will find a way to exalt absolutely anything in the name of fashion, even if the Empress demonstrably has no clothes. All in all the movie strives to be a French bedroom farce of sorts, and it is only partially successful. But I see no reason to hate it.