Real Women Have Curves
directed by Patricia Cardoso
(HBO, 2002)

Depending on whom you ask, 18-year-old Ana should definitely:
A: Pitch in at her sister's sewing factory and be grateful she didn't have to quit school and go to work sooner, or
B: Pitch herself to colleges, knowing she's smart and probably can get a scholarship.

Trouble is, those two options can't meet halfway for Ana, and she'll have to choose.

Real Women Have Curves, the Dramatic Audience Award winner at the 2002 Sundance festival, pits those two choices against each other from the first frame. Based on a play by Josefina Lopez, the story's about Ana, a young woman from a very traditional Mexican-American family, and the boundaries she has to both respect and cross.

She doesn't really fit fully on either side: there are too many curves physically, too many curves emotionally, too many curves intellectually for either the traditional or the Americanized side to win out completely with Ana. But negotiating that boundary, at 18 or 48, can be tricky business.

It's the summer after high school, and Ana's talked into helping out in her older sister's sewing factory. She calls it a sweatshop and offends not only her sister, Estela (Ingrid Oliu), but also her co-workers and, especially, her mother, Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros), who's been working since she was 13 and would like it to finally be "her turn."

She'd love to go to college and is actively encouraged by both her teacher, Mr. Guzman (George Lopez), and her boyfriend, Jimmy (Brian Sites). But Ana's mother and father want to hear none of it, and Estela desperately needs Ana's help.

How much is your family owed? How much do you owe yourself? It's a question that's universal, even more so for those who are first- or second-generation immigrants trying to balance cultures.

America Ferrera shines as Ana, a youthful vibrance tempering defiance, and her scenes with Carmen are an emotional tug-of-war of manipulation.

I found myself wanting less of the boyfriend scenes (but noticed how unusual they are, since it's usually the girlfriend role that's dispensible) and more with Estela, whose own ambitions have to be kept in check by the reality that people depend on her to keep her business running and who, in her late 20s, is seen as hopelessly beyond her prime.

Some of the dialogue, especially Estela's, is unbelievably clunky, but Real Women is a breath of fresh air for women who know that, no matter what they do, someone will think they should have done otherwise.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 13 December 2003

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