Real Women Have Curves

(2002) ** 1/2 Pg-13
90 min. HBO Films/Newmarket Films. Director: Patricia Cardoso. Cast: America Ferrera, Lupe Ontiveros, Ingrid Oliu, George Lopez, Brian Sites.

Like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Real Women Have Curves taps into a desire for sweet entertainment throwing back to seemingly more innocent times. Real Women Have Curves also speaks to two cultures underrepresented on film: Mexican-Americans and the overweight. As such, it's easy to let good will overtake strict criticism and deem Real Women Have Curves a breath of fresh air.

Very little fresh air wafts through the sweatshop where teenage Ana (America Ferrara) finds herself working at the behest of her mother, Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros). Carmen is an expert in emotional blackmail, selfish and insistent, so she counters talk of college with a dose of reality: Ana must work in her older sister's dress shop, where dresses made at a cost of eighteen dollars ship off to be sold for thirty times their value.

Ana is her mother's daughter, however, and follows her own muse. She works in the sweatshop, yes, but sows seeds of dissent among her female brethren. Ana indulges talk of college from her hopeful teacher (TV's George Lopez) and talk of dating from her Anglo friend Jimmy (Brian Sites), who finds her beautiful just the way she is. That Ana is overweight becomes--with Ana's growing self-possession--more a point of pride than shame, which rocks the world of the hefty women of the sweatshop (including Carmen).

The ensemble here is strong, through and through, with newcomer Ferrara and veteran Ontiveros (Chuck&Buck) sparring like pros. The images are mostly bright and colorful, and the music (from Perez Prado to Ozomatli) pumps energy through the endeavor. The lovely romance between Ana and Jimmy moves credibly, tentatively, through sexual milestones to a satisfyingly unforced resolution.

The conflicts of Real Women Have Curves are obvious, and screenwriters Josefina Lopez and George LaVoo resolve them in obvious and mostly uplifting ways. But why not? It's difficult to begrudge the rare, sane alternative to the super-modeling of Hollywood's gleaming, anorexic genetic freaks, and a picture which sends a message of hope--via education--to the next generation of economic disadvantage. Plus, Real Women Have Curves has a infectious, rollicking spirit to match its good heart; it's not exactly a laugh factory, but it is smile-worthy.

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