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Real Women Have Curves (Patricia Cardoso) 2002

    The first film from director Patricia Cardoso, Real Women Have Curves is a pro-fat farce that overcomes much of its excessive moral baggage thanks to two appealing lead performances. This teen drama follows recent high school grad Ana (America Ferrera in her first role), a bright young Mexican American, as she squares off with her mother (the always entertaining Lupe Ontiveros) over virginity, college prospects, and her self image. Despite some lousy expository scenes, which include a horrendous performance by George Lopez as a helpful high school teacher, the movie eventually squeezes itself into a comfortable groove. The mother/daughter square-offs are genuinely funny, and that the film also conveys a sense of their love for each other despite their relationshipís adversarial nature is impressive.  Whenever the film veers into didacticism, it flounders, but to write it off entirely would ignore its positive depiction of working class ďrealĒ Americans, an all too rare occurrence in movies. The dominant message here, which tells us heavy women can be beautiful as well, is perhaps an even rarer sentiment in American film. That the gung-ho attitude here ignores the health risks involved with obesity seems a glaring oversight, however.

    Cardosoís direction isnít particularly distinguished, and like most movies that cater to minorities, there seems to be a bit too much underlining of the specific details that distinguish the minority portrayed to allow things to feel totally natural. The filmís roots as a stage play are rather apparent, and I imagine the climactic strip tease would work much better on the stage than on the screen. The film is often talky, but rarely boring, thanks to the sharp dialogue. Real Women Have Curves is hardly groundbreaking, and it usually goes for easy audience approval, by saying obvious, popular things that only seem controversial in the first place because of the overbearing nature of Ontiverosí character. The portrayal of the sweatshop where the women toil feels a bit too rosy as well. I constantly wished the film was braver in its politics (for example, why not have Anaís supportive teacher be of another race?), but the ones that were presented werenít enough to sink this ship (after all, fat floats). I suppose itís easy enough to write a movie like this off as an After-School Special, and I canít do much to defend it against such attacks, except to point out that they donít make After-School Specials any more, and this fills that niche nicely.

 

* * * 

3/28/02 

Jeremy Heilman