27 October 2002 | lawprof
Feminism, Family, Tradition, Love - A Brilliant Film!
"Real Women Have Curves" deserves the by-word-of-mouth breakthrough success earned by "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Both deal with traditional families coping with a less than compliant young daughter but the differences between the films are real and this movie is a stunning, attention-grabbing, beautifully acted tale of coming of age.
Ana (America Ferrara) is graduating high school in L.A. and not just any high school. She's a Latina from a working class family who made it into Beverly Hills H.S. Her favorite teacher urges not only that she attend college but that she apply to Columbia University. She's also what some would describe as full-figured. That's just one of the obsessions of her mother, Carmen (Lupe Ontineros), herself a rather large lady. Incessantly, publicly and crudely hounding her daughter about her weight and other shortcomings, mostly imagined, Carmen can win the annual Witch of the West award with ease.
Ana goes to work - no choice - in her older sister's dress assembly factory. The sister, Estela (Ingrid Oliu), is always short of cash to meet the payroll and expenses as she puts together for $18 each dresses that will sell in haute couture boutiques for $600 (to Ana's politically correct astonishment). Estela is proud of her work and her factory where she employs Carmen and other Latina women who enjoy a ribald and close friendship. The relationship between Ana and Estela grows as the younger woman begins to understand her sister's pride.
Ana has a boyfriend, an Anglo from an affluent family, but director Patricia Cardoso wisely omits any "West Side Story" clash of cultures to focus on the very believable first love experience of a girl raised, as so many young American women are, to hate their bodies if they don't conform to the Cosmo cover model standard.
Ana matures as the story progresses and the relationships between the family members and among the dress factory workers deepen beautifully. Carmen is a problem. Her treatment of Ana is mean, actually abusive. Taking a page from the stereotypical Jewish mom she manufactures symptoms of many diseases with the acting out passion only possible by a person who will see her hundreth birthday. She's not likeable and yet her cruelty is a projection rather than a mask of her deep love for Ana and the family.
Ana and Carmen are characters that could easily have been played as caricature and that invite overacting. Neither happens. The skill of the leading actresses and the firm vision of the director produce believable women at generational loggerheads.
I have rarely been in so engaged an audience as I was today at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema. Sighs, laughs, groans, applause at various points - it seemed like this was supposed to be an interactive screening. Everyone walked out smiling.
Ana and her family are Mexican born or Mexican Americans but the depth of this film goes beyond any ethnic association. Where "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" celebrated the characters' ancestry, "Real Women Have Curves" pays homage to the inner strength and genuine beauty of - women! Ethnicity and thinness be damned!