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‘Ready to Wear’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 25, 1994

In “Ready to Wear,” ne' “Pret-a-Porter,” Robert Altman lifts the skirts of the fashion industry and finds nothing there ... except solid proof that Paris is poodle country. Every other scene seems to focus on some dandy scraping his shoe after a faux pas de doo. And that’s basically the gist of Altman’s fashion statement.

Like most Altman films, this one features an enormous cast caught up in a multitude of converging story lines. But unlike “The Player,” the picture is not a social satire. It’s a mess.

Set against the swirl of the spring couture wig-out, “Ready to Wear” is most compelling when Altman turns his camera on the kitschy runway shows themselves. Or when Kim Basinger, playing a TV fashion reporter, asks real-life rag superstars such as Thierry Mugler and Jean-Paul Gaultier what on Earth inspired their bizarre creations. Perhaps Altman should have made this film as a documentary instead.

In addition to real supermodels, celebrities and paparazzi, “Ready to Wear” provides 30-plus roles for stars ranging from Sophia Loren to Lyle Lovett. The stupefying Sophia plays the wife of the unpopular fashion commissioner (Jean-Pierre Cassel), who is allegedly murdered as the wingding gets underway.

Once they begin to investigate, the police (Michel Blanc and Jean Rochefort) soon learn they have more suspects than the Seine has bridges. Everybody hated the commissioner, along with his wife and his mistress (Anouk Aimee), a designer whose son (Rupert Everett) is about to sell the House of Lo right out from under his mother.

Other chicanery involves two reporters (Tim Robbins and Julia Roberts), both of whom have lost their suitcases; three magazine editors (Tracey Ullman, Linda Hunt and Sally Kellerman) who’d do anything to sign a snotty photographer (Stephen Rea) to an exclusive contract; and two flitty designers (Forest Whitaker and Richard E. Grant) who swap partners (Tom Novembre and Anne Canovas).

Add to this muddle: Teri Garr as the understanding wife of cross-dressed Danny Aiello; Lauren Bacall as an ex-magazine editor involved with a cowboy boot manufacturer (Lovett); and Marcello Mastroianni, a Russian tailor desirous of Loren. There’s also Harry Belafonte and Cher playing themselves and offering their deep thoughts on what clothes mean to us—something that’s not clearly articulated by Altman or his co-writer Barbara Shulgasser.

Now and then, a line, a scene and, in the case of the defrocked journalists, an entire plot line proves delightful. There’s also the priceless re-teaming of the Italian legends of Mastroianni and Loren, who re-creates a striptease she performed 30 years ago in “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” Mastroianni again sits on the bed and crows, but this time by the time she has removed two stockings and a garter belt, he’s snoring. Too bad, because Loren is as sexy as ever, especially when compared with the gaunt models, who slouch down the runway nude in what is supposed to be the film’s most telling scene.

Guess those models just couldn’t find a thing to wear.

"Ready to Wear" is rated R for nudity, language and sexual situations.

Copyright The Washington Post

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