Pret A Porter aka Ready to Wear

  • Pop Culture References from 1994
  • Techno-Music
  • Embarrassing Rich People


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Directed by the Man of the Moment "Wow! I hope Altman doesn't make me show off my wrinkled old "you know what" in Ready to Wear!"
You Can Always Tell When Ralph Lauren has been Dropping Acid...

because every now and then, in between the traditional Chaps sweaters and Polo Sports golfing shirts, there will be some sort of crazy pink and yellow plaid shirt that is on display in the Nirdlinger's department store. Legend has it that ole Ralph will go on a crazy, LSD-fueled binge that will last months and there will only be a few designs that are even remotely salvageable. I only bring up this story to explain the disastrous miscalculation that is 1994's Ready to Wear. As we have already explained in our review of Popeye, director Robert Altman loves his drugs. And, excluding musicians, most people get kind of sloppy with their work when they're toking, snorting, or dropping some sort of substance. In between 1975 and 1992, Altman's work lacked focus and had the tone of a crazy man. But then, from out of the hashish cloud, Altman got mad and sober and made two of his best films. 1992's The Player and 1993's Short Cuts easily rank among two of the best films of the past twenty-five years. Fascinating stories, deep and layered characters, and pitch perfect writing: It was all there. Maybe Altman had a second wind in him that would put him back in the same breath of Martin Scorceses and Steven Spielberg. Such success must have made Altman fall off the wagon because his next film was 1994's Ready to Wear. Altman's take on Paris' biggest fashion show had the same canvas, superstar cast, and classism themes that are trademarks of all his great films. But there was also the embarrassing socialism, gratuitous female nudity, and painfully smutty humor that pollutes everything else he's ever done. There's no real plot to the film, just a bunch of characters that bounce off one another. Here though, in Altman's old age, it seems like it has become all the more obvious. The list speaks for itself.

The Rich: Paris during the Pret A Porter event is full of rich, pathetic jerks. But the film opens in the heart of the Communist revolution: Red Square in Moscow. Sergio (Marcello Mastroianni) is preparing a meeting with Olivier de la Fontaine (Jean-Pierre Cassel), the Chairman of the Pret A Porter Event. Marcello has bought two Christian Dior ties while standing under an advertisement for Dior's "new" cologne, Poison. How dare the capitalistic designer put a store in the same area that was once graced by Lenin? Poison, indeed. Anyway, back in Paris Olivier is preparing for all of the other rich asses to show up. His wife, Sophia Loren, loves her poodle. And her poodle loves to poop. As a matter of fact, every rich person's poodle loves to poop on every sidewalk in Paris. And these rich people step in this poop all of the time. Or at least, people we aren't supposed to like. Okay, Altman apologists: You wanna say that this is some sort of symbol for the rich stepping into the mess that they have created? Please, Altman was giggling the whole time at the monitor like he was pulling a prank in high school. If this were in an Adam Sandler film (like the upcoming rant-against-the-rich film Deeds) these same apologists would be calling it "sophomoric and stupid". But it's Altman's big gag here unless one counts embarrassing his actresses. For example, Lauren Bacall plays a prominent fashion designer but her shoes never match. You see, she's color blind. And that is literally the only thing we learn about her character. Just a another rich person to mock. But I've got a whole category on this later. Anyway, Marcello meets up with Jean-Pierre. They are sitting in traffic when the Chairman, while getting upset and trying to greedily eat a hot dog, chokes to death. Marcello runs away and jumps off the bridge into a polluted river. The rest of this film tries to act as though part of the plot should be about this murder investigation. this sounding familiar. I mean, it turns out Altman steals some of his old jokes and puts them in Gosford Park. "What was your opinion on the victim, " the Paris police inquire. "Well, he was kind of mean and no one really liked him all that much". They repeat this joke a half dozen times here and probably at least that many times in one of this year's Best Picture nominees. That plot goes along to its total nowhere, uniterested conclusion. We already know what happened; at least Park had to make us guess at the killer of mean, old Gosford. I guess we weren't supposed to care anyway, were we?

The Bad: Altman has never been very kind to his actresses (He's never really been called on that point, either) and Ready to Wear is a shining example. In addition to making Bacall look nice and dumb, we also get a subplot with Julia Roberts as Anne Eisenhower, a reporter from The Houston Chronicle who is forced to share a suite with Tom Flynn  (Tim Robbins), a sports reporter with The Washington Post who has been assigned to the murder investigating. They bicker like they're on "Love, American Style" until they bust out the wine. And then they screw. It gets to the point that Julia gets this depraved/thrilled look on her face every time she hears a cork pop. Wow, she really like being drunkenly taken advantage of! But then, Altman gives us a character that may be his most honest self-portrait in his career with Milo O'Brannigan (Stephen Rea), the Irish photographer who is all the rage in the industry. The three fashion editors played by Linda Hunt, Sally Kellerman, and Tracy Ullman want to work with him in the worst way. Milo makes Hunt get on hands and knees and then makes her bark like a dog. Then, he takes out his camera and starts to take pictures. She kicks him out of her hotel room. Then, Kellerman flashes herself and Ullman puts herself in a sexually awkward position at different points with the same results. Hmmm, talented women wanting to work with a "talented" man who ends up exploiting them with a camera. "Hi, I'm Bob Altman. I bet I can get Julianne Moore to strip for me on more than one occassion in the name of Art. I can do anything I want in the name of Art. Ha! Ha! Ha!" At least they don't bear down to the bare bush. But more on that in the next section.

The Naked: Altman saves all the full frontal nudity for the end with his Big Statement. The climax takes place in the final event of the week and the designers have made their supermodels bare it all for what will be the new trend in fashion. Oh how daring! If one thing can be said for this movie, it seems Altman put a great deal of time in researching fashion runways and the paparazzi. Ready to Wear really puts the audience at those shows with the camerawork and the music supervision. But here, Altman seems to be saying that these fashion shows are nothing more than entertainment for the rich and, by having them all totally naked, he seems to be suggesting that the emperor has no clothes. Shocking! This disgust is manifested by Kitty Potter (Kim Basinger) who is a reporter for the Fashion All Day network (FAD, get it?). Well, I suppose it is a fair point and we also get to see Naomi Campbell's shaven goods. Man, I hadn't seen that since the last time she posed for Playboy.

And I didn't even get to talk about having to endure watching Forest Whitaker and Richard E. Grant make out with one another or about how Lyle Lovett is totally wasted in a role that requires him to be a walking joke about Texas. I'm just sick of people letting Altman get away with his little socialist, misogynist rants just because he puts a bunch of stars in them. Or perhaps I was expecting more after The Player and Short Cuts. In the end, Ready to Wear gets put on the $5.99 rack with that pink and yellow plaid shirt. At least I know all those Popeye defenders out there will pick it up.

The Pitch:
1 Zoolander
1 Nashville
2 Ready to Wear
See It For:
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Bob and Wife, Who Will not be Appearing Fully Naked in a Robert Altman film .