(director/writer: Patricia Cardoso; screenwriters: from the play by Josefina Lopez/George LaVoo; cinematographer: Jim Denault; editor: Sloane Klevin; music: Heitor Pereira/Emma Garcia de Mantilla; cast: America Ferrera (Ana Garcia), Lupe Ontiveros (Carmen Garcia), Ingrid Oliu (Estela Garcia), George Lopez (Mr. Guzman), Brian Sites (Jimmy), Soledad St. Hilaire (Pancha), Jorge Cervera Jr (Raul Garcia), Marlene Forte (Mrs. Glass), Lourdes Perez (Rosali), Felipe de Alba (Grandfather); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Effie Brown/George LaVoo; HBO/Newmarket Films; 2002)

“One is encouraged to root for these lovely people to do well, which is about all the dramatic tension that this pic can garner.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

“Real Women Have Curves” is set in East L.A.’s Boyle Heights and tells a sitcom-like story about an affectionate working-class Mexican-American family and the painful love-hate relationship of a mother-daughter. It’s helmed in her directorial debut by Patricia Cardoso from the play by Josefina Lopez; Ms. Lopez, Ms. Cardoso and George LaVoo worked on the screenwriting. It welcomes likable newcomer America Ferrera as the bright 18-year-old recent high school graduate Ana Garcia and pits her with the consummate veteran performer Lupe Ontiveros as her nagging mother Carmen. The issue here is that Ana is fat and single. She accepts her obesity with pride, while her equally obese mom says she should trim down and get a man and then she can get fat again. Ana makes her full figure a feminist issue. Mom frets that her daughter can’t fit into a size 7 dress, and in public disparages her by calling her a butterball. When the self-image issue gets overworked, the plot moves into the question of education for minority students and ends up as if it’s an infomercial for Columbia’s minority recruitment program. Two other issues are also raised, one of sweatshop exploitation. But it’s raised in the most meek and unconvincing manner for it to go further than being raised and is just as quickly dismissed. The other issue is that the mother wants her girl to remain a virgin for her husband’s sake. Ana counters that there’s more to a woman than her body: “She can think and be recognized for the mind she has.”

There’s nothing new in these familiar family dilemmas and it’s all handled in a too obvious and predictable way to hold one’s interest. One is encouraged to root for these lovely people to do well, which is about all the dramatic tension that this pic can garner. It’s a real crowd-pleaser, and is especially appealing for those who are content with such fuzzy feel-good pics that are not political. This means it should appeal to the same audience that flocked to see “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”–at least the filmmakers hope so. It won the Audience Award and also received the Special Jury Award at Sundance this year. Also, it garnered the October 2002 Chicago Film Festival Silver Paque for Audience Choice and the 2002 San Sebastian Film Festival Youth Prize. I found this film, which celebrates the spirit of all women as inspired by Josefina Lopez’s experiences, too full of tailor-made speeches I’ve heard once too often before, and at the risk of sounding insensitive to the plight of those in minority groups who strive to get ahead — nevertheless, I found it stuck in its didactic presentation. It’s true that the two female leads have a certain charm when going at each other and bring about some laughter, but those amusing scenes weren’t enough to get it over its dullness.

Ana managed to get herself into the prestigious Beverly Hills High School, where she develops a friendship that leads to a romance with a square but wealthy Anglo student Jimmy (Brian Sites). She’s also encouraged to apply for a scholarship to Columbia by her dedicated Mexican-American English teacher, the always helpful Mr. Guzman (George Lopez), who has connections with the dean and tells her if she applies she will receive favorite treatment (it’s so heartening to hear that minority students can have someone pull the same strings that the elite can!). Ana seems to be the only member of his ethnic group in the school and he does his best to serve her, as he often visits her home where he’s welcomed by her mellow and hardworking landscaper father (Jorge Cervera Jr) but resented by her pushy and hypochondriac mother who does not want her baby girl to go to college. Mom says she needs her at home. Mother knows best, or so it seems. She wants the sulking Ana to work in the dress-making factory run by her unmarried and hardworking 29-year-old sister Estela (Ingrid Oliu). So Ana is forced into the factory and is put to work ironing dresses, where she’s surprised to find out Estela gets $18 dollars a dress as a contractor from the manufacturer but the dress is sold in an upscale department store for $600.

The factory scenes were overdrawn. One scene was a shameless example to show female empowerment, where the obese factory gals strip down to their undergarments to show that they’re proud of their fat.

The film goes out its way to show that Ana is not perfect, she can be spiteful. While mom is shown as really caring and doesn’t want to see her get hurt, despite the humiliating way she treats her. She’s no monster, and even becomes a sympathethic figure. It’s pointed out that she is jealous because she never had the same opportunities her daughter now has to get ahead.

I’m glad of one thing, America Ferrera played the lead and not the overused Latino star J. Lo. She gives the film its authentic working-class ethnic look, something rarely found in a Hollywood film.

Real Women Have Curves Poster

REVIEWED ON 12/19/2002 GRADE: C –