Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 90 minutes
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The visual metaphor couldn’t be any more obvious…or accurate. Ana (America Ferrera), an attractive Rubinesque high school graduate with a mind as sharp as her tongue, should be preparing to go to college. Unfortunately for her, her melodramatically overbearing mother Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros) insists that it’s time for her to go to work in her sister Estela’s (Ingrid Oliu) garment factory. Thus, when the wrought iron gate at the sweatshop clatters open to mark the beginning of Ana’s first day on the job, it may as well be a prison door slamming shut on her life and dreams.
Except that the precocious youngster refuses to knuckle under. As director Patricia Cardoso’s uplifting “Real Women Have Curves” unspools, Ana learns to navigate — and appreciate — the grueling demands of her job, manage the first blossomings of young love, and maybe, just maybe, stoke the sparks of her collegiate dreams just long enough for them to burst into flame.
Now granted, I’m an Anglo from the midwest, so my experience with life in East L.A. is virtually nonexistent, but this is a film that seems to be bursting with authenticity. Based on a play by Josephina Lopez, “Real Women Have Curves” certainly doesn’t demonstrate the waif-worshiping fascination of most Hollywood star vehicles.
There is tons of conflict here, considering the film’s lack of a real bad guy. The constant clash between mother and daughter, fueled by their respective “Old School” vs. “New School” mentalities, powers this film. Carmen’s shortsightedness is as frustrating as it is effective, thrusting us as it does into total empathy with Ana.
Every performance here is perfectly calibrated. Ferrera and Ontiveros, sure. But Jorge Cevera Jr.’s turn as the calm and rocklike patriarch plus the desperate dignity Oliu brings to her portrayal of Estela makes “Real Women Have Curves” an enjoyable feel-good family comedy regardless of race.
The only knock on the film is the lack of any real suspense or sense of crisis. Estela nearly loses her shop and Ana nearly misses out on school, but the viewer never really believes that anything truly catastrophic is about to happen.
But that’s okay. “Real Women Have Curves” is just one of those films where, even though you’re pretty sure you know where it’s going, it’s still fun to get there.
Posted on October 14, 2002 in Reviews by Merle Bertrand
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