Ready to Wear (Pret-A-porter)

Directed by Robert Altman. Starring Danny Aiello, Anouk Aimée, Lauren Bacall, Kim Basinger, Michel Blanc, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Rossy De Palma, Rupert Everett, Teri Garr, Richard E. Grant, Linda Hunt, Sally Kellerman, Ute Lemper, Sophia Loren, Lyle Lovett, Marcello Mastroianni, Stephen Rea, Tim Robbins, Julia Roberts, Jean Rochefort, Lili Taylor, Tracey Ullman, Forest Whitaker. (1994)

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Dec. 23, 1994

Ready to Wear is no designer item. Director Robert Altman trips on the fashion world's runway in his latest release whose title has been Americanized from its original Pret-a-Porter moniker. As is typical of Altman's career path, the director follows up his popular hits with quirky bombs: Brewster McCloud and McCabe & Mrs. Miller came after his success with MASH, Buffalo Bill and the Indians followed the critical triumph of Nashville and, now, Ready to Wear represents Altman's contretemps in the wake of The Player and Short Cuts. This new movie employs Altman's typical structure of interwoven narrative threads and camerawork that moves fluidly amongst a throng of characters and setups. But none of these situations is terribly remarkable or insightful, some are downright predictable and tedious (for example, the storyline about Tim Robbins and Julia Roberts), and others are painfully misanthropic (most strikingly, the story of the three fashion editors -- Hunt, Kellerman, and Ullman -- and their competition for the services of viperous photographer Rea). Generally, I have admiration for Altman's work although I find myself disliking it immensely. This is due to an intrinsic scorn for humanity that underwrites all the director's work. In Ready to Wear, Altman's dyspepsia colors his whole field of vision and in case there is anyone out there who is missing his barbs, Altman includes an unpleasant running gag of characters stepping in dogshit to lend visual weight to his humans-equal-turds equation. More to the point than my personal dislike of Altman's moral aesthetic is that fact that Ready to Wear doesn't ever hit its target. The film wanders around the subject of the fashion business, pricking the circumference of the scene but never actually piercing its innards. It hardly seems a challenge to take something like the fashion industry which is based on superficiality and then turn around and expose it for its shallowness and superficiality. And, moreover, to expose it without much insight, wit, or precision -- cheap shot. Ready to Wear is to filmmaking what paper dresses were to fashion -- thin, trendy, and disposable.

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