"Behind, and Ahead of the Curve"
What You Need To Know:
The 90 minute movie follows the cultural and generational tug-of war between Ana and her mother, whose old-world values would put all young women barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. Carmen fears Ana’s zaftig shape will keep her from finding a husband. Ana valiantly argues for her right to the American dream and for women to be valued for their minds, not their less-than-Barbie bodies. (Or, more correctly, MORE-than-Barbie bodies!) Although the finale is moderately uplifting, strong Christian and family values are marred in several subplots, and some obscenities and sexual content should have been avoided. REAL WOMEN is rated PG-13, but parents may want to restrict viewing to older teenagers
(C, Ab, Fe, LL, S, MM, NN, AB) Christian worldview celebrating family and extolling hard work, while lightly poking fun at immigrant Catholics’ dependence on religious icons with some feminist elements; 11 obscenities and one profanity; implied fornication and depicted seduction where teenage girl provides condom; upper frontal male nudity and female(s) in underwear in two scenes; and, grandfather lies to granddaughter’s parents, taking her out to meet boyfriend, mother repeatedly insults her daughter, girl ashamed of sister’s sweatshop, and girl gives up virginity.
Although REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES has won much critical acclaim, it probably would have done better on HBO, for which it was originally planned. Billed as a classic “coming-of-age” story, it is more a tale of the cultural clashes that commonly occur between first-generation Americans and their immigrant parents. Where MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING pokes loving fun at old-world traditions, REAL WOMEN tips dangerously toward a cruel portrayal of a Mexican mother’s treatment of her potentially successful American daughter. The plot at times meanders, probably in its attempt to fill 90 minutes of screen time.
East Los Angeles, barrio-based Ana Garcia (American Ferrera) is graduating from an exclusive Beverly Hills high school, and her English teacher (himself a Latino) urges her to fulfill the American dream of going to college. Ana would love to do so, but knows that her Mexican parents will not hear of it. Ana is needed to help her spinster sister, Estela, (Ingrid Oliu) who owns an understaffed dressmaking factory in L.A.’s garment district and cannot afford to pay her. Mother Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros) calls the 18-year-old heroine selfish for resenting working for nothing. The ninety-minute saga plays out the tug-of-war between mother and daughter, with Ana ultimately succeeding in going off to Columbia University on a full scholarship.
The major tension comes from mother Carmen, who relentlessly insults the zaftig Ana, whose full figure, she believes, will keep Ana from attracting a husband. Ana valiantly argues that women should be valued for their thoughts and minds, a wonderful message in this day of girls developing eating disorders to achieve unrealistic thinness.
Even so, it is disappointing that in a household replete with religious icons, Ana’s loving and beloved grandfather lies to the family, telling them he’s taking her to the movies when he sets her free to meet Jimmy, her all-American classmate who finds her beautiful just the way she is. Feminist Ana rebels against Carmen’s warnings about remaining a virgin and provides the condom for her one encounter with Jimmy, then abruptly ends it by telling him he won’t need her address. She reveals the heart of her insecurity: they won’t have anything to talk about once he’s in college, and he’ll meet lots of skinny girls there anyway.
The movie touches on some interesting social issues. Ana begins her work in the sweatshop with an understandable chip on her shoulder, as she rightly believes she has achieved a degree of academic success that should allow her to pursue higher education and rewarding work. She also clearly resents the limited choices available to Chicanas, but in the course of the movie comes to appreciate the hard work put in by her mother, her sister and the other factory workers. She questions the justice of the money paid for their labor – $18 per finished dress – compared to its final $600 ticket on Bloomingdale’s racks, but the movie thankfully avoids becoming a polemic on labor vs. management.
There is some fun in the movie and one scene that probably worked better on stage (this was originally a play) than on screen: the sweat shop “striptease” where Ana, Estela and other workers disrobe to compare their stretch marks and cellulite, all in celebration of “real” women and their curves.
The denouement, however, is quite disappointing. Ana’s successful final appeal to her father (George Lopez) to allow her to go to Columbia is presented as if she is breaking the news to him that she has become pregnant . . . “Papa, I have something to tell you . . .” to which he immediately responds “you have my full blessing.” At dinner that night, Carmen questions the family’s stony silence and is told, “Ana has something to tell you.” The audience is shown Ana’s very pained face, then in the next scene she is off to the airport and her new life as a Columbia student. Her father had earlier been adamant that Ana could not leave her family by going so far away, yet the viewer is never exposed to his gradual change of heart. Saddest of all, Carmen never comes out of her bedroom to bid Ana farewell or to celebrate her success, making her wonderful triumph bittersweet.
REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES is short and enjoyable. Its low-budget production values actually enhance the story, in the purposeful use of unglamorous sets and non-Hollywood actors, most of whom are superb. The movie’s promotional poster says “Real women take chances, have flaws, embrace life.” Too bad taking chances meant the heroine’s giving up her virginity, as the other chances taken – Estela’s struggles at being an entrepreneur and Ana’s ability to escape the constraints of the barrio – are such wonderfully worthy goals.
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