Women Have Curves
Reviewed by Carla Freccero
Real Women Have Curves, directed by Patricia Cardoso, is based
on a play of the same name by Josefina Lopez, who plays Veronica
in the movie and who co-wrote the screenplay along with George
LaVoo. It's playing now at the Nickelodeon in Santa Cruz. Be sure
not to miss it.
Ana-played by America Ferrera-is the youngest in an East LA household
comprised of her mother Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros), her father (Jorge
Cervera Jr.), her older sister Estela (Ingrid Olin), her grandfather
(Felipe de Alba), and her cousins and their mother. As the youngest,
she's the one her mother both dotes on and needles incessantly.
She's also the one who's the most privileged in the family, her
good grades earning her a place at Beverly Hills High rather than
a spot next to her mom and sister at the dress-making "sweatshop"
her sister owns.
The story takes place just after high school graduation. Ana's
teacher wants her to go to college, but Ana's mother thinks it's
about time she go to work and nags at her about her weight because
she secretly hopes that, unlike Estela, Ana will get married soon.
After several stand-offs, and as a result of Carmen's consummate
guilt-tripping techniques, Ana does, in fact, go to work in the
dress shop, and it's an eye-opening experience for the girl. This
coming-of-age tale could, then, be understood as Ana's realization
that her family struggles hard doing back-breaking work for the
modestly comfortable life they live, and that her mother and her
sister also, like her, have had to overcome a variety of disappointments
in their lives. But this is not a moralistic story: it does not
want to crush Ana's youthful sense of entitlement and free-spirited
ambition with a lesson about the value of sometimes unrewarding
hard work. Instead it trains its eye and our attention carefully,
gently, and respectfully, on a set of contradictions: between
self and family, between class aspirations and cultural loyalty,
between self-assertion and self-sacrifice. What the director and
these very fine actors are able to do is convey ambivalence, the
way conflicting emotions and claims wrestle powerfully with each
other and offer up no easy, reductive solutions to dilemmas that,
in real life, are complex and difficult to resolve.
So, at first we are tempted either to side with Carmen (and perhaps
Estela), regarding Ana as a stubborn, rude, stuck-up teenager;
or we side with Ana, and see Carmen as a narcissistic, critical,
self-absorbed and co-dependent possessive mother bent on ruining
her bright and beautiful daughter's life. But Real Women really
doesn't allow us to remain in either of those positions: the women
in this family are complex, wounded, good people fiercely bound
to each other even as they jostle for the emotional upper hand.
The men in this movie are less well-developed-and they are fairy-tale-ishly
benign, which, nevertheless, turns out to be refreshing in a movie
so focused on powerful difficult women. I was grateful that the
father-and a boyfriend who emerges in Ana's life-were decent,
kind, and loving people. The relationship between Ana and her
grandfather is priceless.
Real Women works hard to be a movie that takes on difficult issues
without assaulting its audience, either with violence or melodrama,
tragedy or miracle. Mostly, it succeeds, allowing us to be interested
and deeply moved without feeling manipulated. But, as the portrait
of the men and Ana's success suggest, it does so by idealizing
some of its characters, so much so that we are left wondering
whether Ana really is prepared to go off into the cruel harsh
world she will surely encounter. To dignify its characters, then,
Real Women risks making poverty appear a bit less difficult than
it most certainly must be.
This is a wonderful jewel of a movie. America Ferrera breaks your
heart and takes your breath away. Real Women is funny, serious,
and smart. And it's great to see "real" women, who really
do have curves and complicated feelings and plenty of ambition.
It's also good to see a film made and acted by Latinas and Latinos
that treats cultural, racial, and economic situatedness with respect
Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang,
this is Carla Freccero.