Meg Ryan in Proof of Life: World's Worst Hippie? | Clothes on Film

In Proof of Life (2000), a kidnap thriller set in fictional South American country Tecala, Meg Ryan plays Alice Bowman, possibly one of the least convincing hippies ever committed to film. On Alice, hippie seems like a passing trend rather than a lifestyle choice.

Ryan’s costumes are a mix of sarong-skirts with embroidery, cotton vests, long-sleeved/tie-dyed t-shirts, big belts, linen shirts, waist cincher, leather jacket, waistcoat, sandals, even a matelot sweater. Add in a $300 hairdo, with a generous application of lip gloss, and Alice Bowman, all in all, looks pretty fresh considering her husband has been trapped in captivity for several months.

Proof of Life makes a big hurrah of Alice’s culinary skills. To accentuate her ‘earth mother’ credentials Alice spends considerable time in the kitchen, though apparently not cooking much for anyone or eating a great deal herself (she prefers supporting the faceless tobacco corporations).

For Alice trawling the local food markets with her straw bag, instructing her Hispanic maid to barter for ingredients she can’t pronounce herself is what hippie life is all about. Dreamily drifting from Guavas to Tamarind – this is her Wonderland.

Just a fleeting glance at Alice, her clothes, hair and make-up, and it is clear she is a woman playing hippie (a ‘hippy’?). Interestingly despite Meg Ryan’s uniform look, hippie fashion bares little relation to consistency. Pigeon holed from the early 1960s to early 70’s, hippie continued well into the ‘77 disco era for some locales (namely California) and has hung around there ever since (again, California).

Hippie was anti-fashion, about dropping out and nose thumbing the establishment. Though for most hippies any thumbing would likely have been conducted from a horizontal position while puffing on a herbal smoke.

For women the look often comprised light denim flares, long skirts, chunky knitwear, flowers, scarves, very little make-up – it was a vibe more anything else.

Denim was also popular for male hippies along with Kurta shirts in linen or cotton and ex-army desert boots. There was a lot of crossover between the sexes; faded bell bottom jeans in particular were often unisex. Hippie clothes were purchased from markets either second hand or homemade. The idea was to be as relaxed and close to nature as possible.

Alice at least gets the skirts right, also tie-dye is an accurate touch. A waist cincher though? Are hippies that concerned with form? The problem too is that her outfits don’t appear even remotely used or indigenous. Alice looks as though she has purchased everything at Monsoon.

Co-star Russell Crowe as Alice’s unrequited love interest Terry Thorne fares little better costume wise. Though wisely eschewing the hippie look, his tough guy ‘contemporary’ jacket and jeans combos, unstructured suits with open neck shirts, polo shirts and loose tapered trousers belong in another era. Being as the film was made in 2000 they actually belong in another millennium. Fine for the retro vibe but Thorne would likely buy his clothes at a department store, say Debenhams in London; which in retrospect he probably did – in 1992.

It’s Meg Ryan though who seems most at sea.

It is possible that Proof of Life’s costume designer, the talented and normally spot-on Ruth Myers, wanted to push Ryan as far from ‘girl next door’ type as possible. Or else Alice’s pseudo- bohemianism was written as such in the script. Maybe this is who Alice is, a phony? She dresses like one, a supposed nonconformist in pristine pretty ethnic tops and a leather jacket so new you can practically hear it squeaking.

What we take away from the film is someone who doesn’t belong. And not just the character either but, rather worryingly, the actress who plays her too.

© 2009, Chris Laverty.

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