Patricia Cardoso's Real Women Have Curves was a big hit at last year's Sundance Film Festival, and has lately been the subject of earnest NPR profiles. The current year-end double issue of Entertainment Weekly has a full-page portrait of the film's principals, Lupe Ontiveros and America Ferrera.
The fuss is good free publicity for the film, but it also raises expectations to an unsustainable level. This film tells the story of Ana (Ferrera), a young Mexican-American woman in Los Angeles. Her father is a gardener and her mother (Ontiveros) is a seamstress, a traditional and superstitious woman who weeps over her telenovelas. Ana has graduated from high school, and despite the encouragement of a teacher, she assents to her family's wishes that she go to work in her older sister's sweatshop.
The most interesting scenes in the film are its glimpses of Mexican-American life in Los Angeles. In particular, we learn the details of the garment trade: The sweatshops get $18 per dress, each in turn to be retailed for $600. Beyond that, the plot is more than a little shopworn. Will Ana find love this summer? Will she find a way to realize her dreams of college, without severing ties to her family?
The film has gotten attention for its muchacha-power theme that stresses positive body images for plump girls. Ferrera's Ana is a little hefty, but she refuses to hide her curves, and indeed strikes up a romance with a gringo classmate.
Actually, the film doesn't make enough of the body image issue. For one thing, there are obvious contradictions between the admirable, be-happy-with-yourself message of this film and the steady drumbeat of public health alarms about America's increasing waistline. Maybe a few scenes at Mickey D's would have been apropos--surely those huevos rancheros can't bear all the blame.