Real Women Have Curves
One of the nicer qualities of Real Women Have Curves is that it's rarely as preachy as its title suggests. That may only be a matter of unmet expectations, but not meeting expectations is something Curves does well throughout. As a coming-of-age story, it cycles through all the usual rites of passage, but keeps shuffling the order, changing their significance in the process. It frequently doesn't work, but a number of other virtues compensate for the awkward stretches. Newcomer America Ferrera counts as one. Ferrera plays a full-bodied high-school senior, the daughter of first-generation Mexican immigrants. Her graduation marks the end of a daily routine of endless bus trips to attend school in a better neighborhood, and the beginning of much uncertainty. Told that financial limitations make college impossible, Ferrera resigns herself to working in her sister's tiny dress factory, a sweatshop in every detail but the convivial atmosphere of its employees. A high-school teacher keeps her hopes alive by encouraging her to apply to Columbia, but her mother (Lupe Ontiveros) has other plans. Obsessed with Ferrera's weight and its effect on her marital prospects, Ontiveros continually tries to impose her own wishes on her daughter. "It's because I love you that I make your life so miserable," she tells Ferrera's sister, and she applies this irony-free guiding principle to all her children. One of the not-so-nice qualities of Real Women Have Curves is that it occasionally is as preachy as its title suggests. Rebellions and terse confrontations mount, and as the plot inches toward a more-or-less inevitable conclusion, the film never quite ties the themes of body image, the immigrant experience, and generational strife together into the neat bow that seems to be its goal. Writers George LaVoo and Josefina Lopez (adapting her play) and director Patricia Cardoso still leave much to admire, by allowing Ferrera to act glum and unlikable for much of the film, and keeping Ontiveros unyielding through the end. No big, fat wedding could sweep these problems away, and Ferrera's expression makes that clear in every scene.