The Rounded Figure

Can you blame Ana (America Ferrera) if she’s feeling bitter? Her future is being hijacked. She’s a smart cookie but her parents don’t want her to pursue college. She’s told to work and iron clothes for her sister Estela (Ingrid Oliu), who owns a sewing shop. Meanwhile, Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros), Ana’s dramatic mom, is proving to be a constant thorn. She’s always criticizing Ana from her walking gait to her “gorda” body. It seems that Ana only finds comfort in the company of her classmate Jimmy (Brian Sites). Maybe comfort is the wrong word for they’re in that awkward phase of romance. But at least, there’s no taste of bitterness in that department.

Despite a simplistic narrative and a predictable plot, “Real Women Have Curves” is special in the way it eyes beauty in its characters and its actors that play them. Front row and center is the young America Ferrera, making a confident stride in her big feature role. Her Ana, an outspoken teen with strong sensibilities, is a great role model for young girls. She knows she’s fat but she also knows her physical weight doesn’t need to translate into an emotional one. And yet, there’s something in Ferrera’s demeanor that makes Ana subtly flawed too. Ana is intelligent alright, but she’s also bratty and egocentric. She thinks she’s above her old-fashioned culture, which is exactly what her mother represents. Veteran actress Ontiveros as Carmen is strongly effective. Her character is cold when she taunts and teases her daughter and yet, she also provides such warm and engaging humor when she’s discussing her telenovelas. The final actor I’d like to single out is Brian Sites, who plays such a sweet and gentle boyfriend to Ana. I really like how the romance storyline plays out because Ferrera and Sites make the young couple realistically clumsy yet tender.

“Real Women Have Curves” won the Sundance Dramatic Audience Award five years ago. This is the kind of film that the festival likes to celebrate. It’s largely different from mainstream films and yet you suspect it’s a movie that millions could probably relate to and love. It’s not exactly a brilliant film, but it’s one that inspires greatness in all forms and sizes. In one hilarious scene, Ana starts a stripfest and her chubby coworkers follow suit, as they show off and compare each other’s cellulites and stretch marks. Ana’s mom is aghast at this display of blubber.

“This is who we are, Mama.” Ana proudly exclaims. “Real women.” Can you blame Ana if she’s feeling better?

Grade: B+

America Ferrera, Lupe Ontiveros, Ingrid Oliu, George Lopez, and Brian Sites
Based on the play by
Josefina Lopez
Screenplay by
George LaVoo
Josefina Lopez
Directed by
Patricia Cardoso
Rated PG-13 for sexual content and some language