Ana (America Ferrera) is a first generation Mexican-American teenager who has just finished her last day of high school. She wants to go to college, but her family has other plans for her. Her father (Jorge Cervera Jr.) fears that her leaving would separate the family, something he has always feared since coming to America. Her mother (Lupe Ontiveros) believes women belong in the factories, not in institutions of higher education.
Ana has more to deal with than just not going to college with the rest of her friends and classmates. She is overweight, but she is confident about herself for the most part, especially when you consider what she puts up with on a daily basis. Her mother is always calling her fat; always using the word "butterball," even in public. Ana can't have any cake at her family graduation party, because as her mother points out, "She can't have any cake. Look at her, she is bigger than the cake." But Ana's mother is also fat, but her excuse is that she's married. It goes to show that her mentality is that women in life have clear-cut objectives. When Ana brings up the fact that women have minds, opinions, aspirations, choices and goals, her mother laughs it off, "women have minds?"
Ana knows she belongs in college but lets the fact that her family is lower-middle class get in the way of applying. When she goes back to her old school in the summer to get guidance from her old teacher, Mr. Guzman (George Lopez), she encounters her friend, Jimmy (Brian Sites), although he is really more of an acquaintance at this point. Before they separate, Jimmy writes his number on her hand and asks her to call him sometime. Their relationship in the movie is a nice outlet from Ana's hellish life. We know her family won't approve of Jimmy because he's an Anglo, so we are delightfully entertained by the many ways in which Ana sneaks out of the house to spend time with him, often with the assistance of her generous abuelo--or grandfather (Felipe de Alba).
Between high school and finding out if she gets into college, Ana is shipped off to the factory every morning with her mother to make dresses that earns the factory $18, only for the dresses to be sold at a retail store for $600. The factory, or as Ana calls, "the sweatshop," is run by Estela (Ingrid Oliu), Ana's eldest and adult sister. The working conditions aren't ideal, but there is a certain pride taken by the women who work there. All of them are overweight, which will make an entertaining scene to come on a hot day, when Ana decides to take off her shirt despite her mother's staunch disapproval. Unlike her mother, Ana doesn't care that she's fat, as she leads the rest of the women in a celebration of their bodies while the sew and finish their day's tasks.
For a low-budget film, this movie has a lot of power, but there are still a lot of careless errors that could have easily been avoided. On her last day of school, we see Ana leaving her classroom but is called back her teacher, Mr. Guzman. He gives her some quick advice on college that she can't accept. "I don't know why you spend your time on me," she says. "But, you were the best." She then hands him a wrapped present for being a good teacher. Had Mr. Guzman not initially called her back when the bell rang, she would have walked away without giving him his present. Did she expect him to call out to her as she was leaving, or did she just forget to give her favorite teacher his present?
I also had an issue with the sound effects which were repetitious and unconvincing. A woman is seen doing something on the computer to loud beeps and clicks. One would imagine she is playing the "Bloodshed 5: Attack of the Plutonian Zombies," when all she was really doing was typing a letter in a word processing program. When will filmmakers learn that loud continual beeps don't belong in document files? Another note; every time the movie cuts to the factory where everyone works, we hear the same siren. The obvious effect the movie was going for was that the factory is located in the slums of the city where at almost every hour of the day, sirens from the police and fire trucks could be heard. But we clearly know the siren used in the movie was the same effect used repetitiously, with the same pitch, volume, duration, and always from the same distance since the last time we heard it.
But with that said, "Real Women Have Curves" is an enjoyable movie that deserves a national audience even though it was marketed and produced for television by HBO. There is a certain value that comes from this movie not being a major motion picture production. This movie isn't as funny as "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," but its purpose is much greater.
First-time actor America Ferrera was a good pick for the role of Ana. She is realistic and resembles normal people a lot more than Hollywood celebrities do. As Elvis Mitchell of the New York Times puts it, "we're lucky this film didn't come out of a studio, where Ana would have been played by Jennifer Lopez."
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