Ready to Wear (Prêt-à-Porter) Reviews
As an admirer of Robert Altman's work ("Nashville", "Short Cuts"), even the slightest of a failure remains watchable to me. Is it the overlapping dialogue? The devastatingly star-studded casts? The magnificent giganticness of the plot, the characters, the script? Not all of Altman's films are equally chatty - he is capable of going gloomy and dry ("Thieves Like Us", "The Long Goodbye") - but when he wants to go all out he goes all out. "The Player", a Hollywood satire, featured nearly sixty celebrities making random cameos for the sake of making a cameo. "Nashville" had twenty-four main characters, all of them somehow as well-characterized as the last.
"Ready to Wear", a fashion week parody, comes directly after "The Player" and "Short Cuts" - Altman's biggest successes of the 1990s - and it continues the trend of a large cast and cheerfully rambling dialogue. But arriving in the shadow of these terror twins can only be described as a sort of curse. Three is hardly a magic number, and "Ready to Wear" learned that all too soon, considering the critical destruction it faced upon its release. Altman died in 2006, his legacy coming in the form of the films I mentioned earlier; "Ready to Wear", in the meantime, got filed away in the reject folder.
I've spoiled myself these last few years. I have only sat through Altman movies Ebert promised I would like - and I have yet to see one that I haven't admired in some way or another. "Ready to Wear" is my first wild card (it currently holds a 26% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, panned for "not being mean enough", "not being focused enough", etc). 133 minutes later, I can confidently say that I don't understand the lack of love for "Ready to Wear".
Fine, the humor isn't as sharp as it could be (this is supposed to be a satire, after all). Okay, Altman and his co-screenwriter, Barbara Shulgasser, aren't decisive enough to really make consistent characters out of the massive ensemble. But I like "Ready to Wear", along with its hiccups. Things to like include the setting, Paris, of all places; how extensive this fictional fashion week is, loaded with brilliantly timed cameos and dynamic catwalk sequences (soundtracked with Salt-N-Peppa, Björk, more); and, most significantly, the cast, which is possibly too ravishing to resist, including Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Lauren Bacall, (a scene-stealing) Kim Basinger, Julia Roberts, Tim Robbins, Forest Whitaker, Tracey Ullman, Sally Kellerman, Lili Taylor, Teri Garr and Lyle Lovett. Some portray insiders, some out, all compelling.
Problematic and sprawling as it is, "Ready to Wear" keeps us busy and keeps things charming - finding ourselves entertained is accidental. There's so much going on, so much to enjoy. So stop, please stop, thinking and comparing and underrating "Ready to Wear" because of "Nashville" and "Short Cuts" and "M*A*S*H" and "The Player". You'll have a better time that way. There's much to savor. Altman pays homage to 1963's "Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow" by recreating its striptease scene with its now senior stars, Loren and Mastroianni, and the final sequence, featuring a scad of gorgeous (and nude) models, cements the film's carefree approach to do whatever the hell it wants. Sure, you should watch one of the Altman greats first (I won't name them again), but "Ready to Wear" acts as a smart pastime. You can't get all this from the September issue anyway.