The closest statement of the film's viewpoint is voiced by one character: "Women make clothes for women; men make clothes for the women they want to be with, or in most cases, for the women they want to be."
For Robert Altman, there is rarely much middle ground between triumph and trouble. "Ready To Wear" is a dud. Altman's mind is so original, so playful that it's easy to be charitable about his failures, knowing the next time out he will probably amaze us again with sharp cultural perceptions, beautifully told. Not tonight.
And what a shame. The opening credits roll against pieces of fabric that carry names full of promise for a good evening: Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimee, Sophia Loren, Tim Robbins, Julia Roberts, Stephen Rea, Forest Whitaker, and Danny Aiello. All of them fall under a fatal twin weight: no plot, no lines.
Altman comments on societal subgroups by taking quick glimpses of all the players, hoping the flavor of the thing will ultimately bubble to the top of the pot. The flavor that bubbles up in this film about the fashion world is sour indeed. Altman clearly dislikes the industry. If any compassion lay in his soul, he could satirize it. Absent that, he simply highlights the worst in each of his very superficial characters.
Designers, magazine editors, and hangers-on wander around the Paris fashion runways at showtime using verbal stilettos to insult their competition. Entirely lacking a plot, there can, of course, be no subplots. The closest statement of the film's viewpoint is voiced by one character: "Women make clothes for women; men make clothes for the women they want to be with, or in most cases, for the women they want to be." And so we have an assortment of hostile, aggressive, manipulative gays and straights, depending on who Altman is skewering at a given moment.
His device is Kim Basinger as an ignorant, whining TV commentator who interviews the major players with idiotic questions, like, "Do you have any special fashion plans?" Hers is a singularly unattractive character, a caricature of all we love to hate in today's media. There are only two possible reasons for you to see this movie: Sophia Loren and Anouk Aimee.
Aimee plays the reigning designer with style and honesty, offering a solitary, strong focus for the stories that don't exist. But it is the great Sophia herself who provides the picture's real pizzazz. You will not forget her arrival at the funeral of the husband she detested. Swathed entirely in appropriate black and high style detail, she strides under an enormous bright red hat, itself a sail that carries her to her awful obligation. "The world be damned," she says, with one gesture that can justify a life.
In his own signature gesture at the end of the film, Robert Altman sends his models down the runway stark naked: "That's what I think of you, fashion world." But in this graceless film, it falls flat. Only Sophia Loren, by virtue of her humor and flair, has earned the right to thumb her nose at the world.
Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 493
Rating: R 2h12m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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