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Cass' review of
Real Women Have Curves


Real Women Have Curves (2002)
Rated R; running time 90 minutes
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Written by: Josefina Lopez and George LaVoo
Directed by: Patricia Cardoso
Cast: America Ferrera, Lupe Ontiveros, Ingrid Oliu, George Lopez, Brian Sites, Soledad St. Hilaire, Jorge Cervera Jr., Felipe de Alba, Lina Acosta, Marlene Forte

Review Copyright Cassandra Henry, 2003

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"If you lost weight you could be beautiful." Carmen Garcia (Lupe Ontiveros)

CASS' CLIP (WARNING: **spoilers below**)
Real Women Have Curves is the story of Mexican-American, Ana Garcia (America Ferrera), an 18 year-old teenager at the crossroads of her life. Ana lives in East Los Angeles, but is a senior at Beverly Hills High School. Because she's an excellent student, her English teacher, Mr. Guzman (George Lopez), recognizes her potential and encourages her to apply to Columbia University. Ana knows her working-class family can't afford to send her to college, but Mr. Guzman believes he can get her a full scholarship. All Ana has to do is submit a personal essay with her application, and more importantly, convince her parents to let her go to college away from home.

Raul Garcia (Jorge Cervera, Jr.), Ana's father, is a gardener and her mother, Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros), is a seamstress at her eldest daughter, Estela's (Ingrid Oliu), garment factory. [Carmen has been a seamstress for 38 years]. But when Mr. Guzman tries to convince Ana's parents to allow her to attend Columbia University, Carmen tells him that Ana doesn't need an education because she will be working at her older sister's dressing making shop. [Carmen is from the old school and believes a woman's destiny is simply to get married, have children and take care of her family. How dare Ana try to break the cycle of working in a sweatshop and dream outside of her mother's expectations of her]. In order to control her and strip away her self-esteem, Carmen constantly belittles Ana about her weight. Ana's weight is not an issue for her, and her boyfriend, Jimmy (Brian Sites), thinks she's beautiful. Ana goes even further and shows Jimmy exactly what's under her baggy clothes (if you get my drift).

Ana and Carmen constantly clash because they are both headstrong. [Carmen is determined to keep Ana at home and goes as far as telling her that she's pregnant, when in fact she's menopausal]. Carmen does win round one of their ongoing battle, when Ana ends up working at Estela's dress factory. Over time, Ana sees just how hard her sister and the other employees, Pancha (Soledad St. Hilaire), Norma (Lina Acosta ) and Donna (Sandie Torres), really work. Ana begins to appreciate the sacrifices Estela has made for her, especially after she discovers that the manufacturer pays Estela only $18.00 for each evening gown or dress, while selling the same dress at Bloomingdale's for $600. Estela's true gift is designing dresses, but her insensitive mother and unsupportive father undermine her confidence. When Estela designs a beautiful gown for Ana, Estela tells her "Pretty dresses aren't just for skinny girls."

To complete her application to Columbia University, Ana secretly completes her personal essay. [Mr. Guzman has connections with someone at Columbia thereby allowing her to send in her application in mid-summer]. During the summer, Ana continues ironing and cleaning up at Estela's very hot factory. It seems that they aren't allowed to use fans for ventilation because the dust and flying particles will stick on the dresses and ruin them. So one day, Ana has had enough of the sweltering heat and takes off her blouse. Carmen is horrified by Ana's display and tells her that she's too fat. Because Ana is comfortable in her own skin, she doesn't allow her mother's derogatory comments to get to her and even convinces the other women to strip down to their panties. They laugh and share stories about their weight, but feel more empowered by this moment. [Hence the movie's title].

Just when Ana thought that she would spend the rest of her life working in her sister's factory, Mr. Guzman returns to the Garcia household with the news she had hoped for but the news her mother refuses to accept.

DA 411
As a real woman who has more than my share of curves, I was really looking forward to seeing this movie. Real Women Have Curves is based on Josefina Lopez's play, which centers on the mother-daughter relationship of Ana and Carmen. America Ferrera, Lupe Ontiveros and Ingrid Oliu are to be commended for their realistic portrayal of mothers and daughters in crisis. In fact, at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival Awards, America Ferrera and Lupe Ontiveros both won the Special Jury Prize for their performances. They made you understand their conflict, feel their despair, and root for them to overcome whatever obstacles they faced.

Since there are very few movies featuring Mexican-American actors, I applaud writers Josefina Lopez and George LaVoo, as well as director Patricia Cardoso, for not pandering to Hollywood's vision that all Mexican-American families or neighborhoods are controlled by gang-banging drug dealers. The fact that RWHC was filmed in the barrios of east Los Angeles added to the film's musical flava and cultural authenticity.

On the other hand, what weighs this movie down for me is the mother's constant belittling of her plus size daughter. After a couple of scenes, I think the audience understands that Carmen is overbearing. But what was missing from RWHC is some type of explanation as to why Carmen is incapable of getting past her own fears and resentment, almost to the point of being jealous of both her daughters, especially Ana.

Also, what I would have liked to have seen was how Ana's personal essay to Columbia could have tied into the storyline. Perhaps telling the story from a narrative point of view where Ana is already a freshman in college and she's flashing back on how she got there. [I know the flashback storylines are overdone, but it might have worked in this instance]. For example, Ana could have read her personal essay, "Real Women Have Curves," in a writing class, and as she reads her essay, the story flashes back. Instead, the audience is supposed to accept the fact that Ana is smart simply because her teacher thinks so without giving the viewer some proof.

Real Women Have Curves is a HBO and Newmarket production. I'm not sure how much mass appeal this movie has generated on the big scene, but I think it would have had a wider audience if it were aired on HBO instead.

I struggled with my decision on whether to give this movie a Green or Yellow light because I hoped for something better. But I'd have to grade this movie on a curve to give this a green light.


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Copyright Cassandra Henry, 2003

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More 3BlackChicks™ review(s) for this week:
(movies reviewed week of 1/3/03):
Cass' reviews:
Chicago | Real Women Have Curves | Two Weeks Notice

Bams' reviews:
Chicago | About Schmidt

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