This sassy, stirring, and surprisingly subtle winner of the Sundance Audience Award tells the story of a first-generation Mexican-American teenager from East Los Angeles who struggles to strike a balance between her mainstream ambitions and her more traditional cultural heritage as she attempts to forge her own path in life. Bright, full-figured Ana (America Ferrera in an impressive debut) wants to go to college, but mamá insists that she work in a garment sweatshop while preparing for marriage. Veteran actress and recent indie favorite Lupe Ontiveros (Chuck and Buck, Storytelling) delivers a powerhouse performance—funny, scary, touching—as the suffocating mother who bombards her daughter with put-downs, guilt trips, and hilariously gruesome cautionary tales. Based on Josefina Lopezʼs play, which was inspired by her own experiences, Real Women Have Curves is distinguished from more simplistic ethnic-identity dramas by its recognition of a hidden oppression that comes from within oneʼs own culture, family, and self. Ana is more her motherʼs daughter than sheʼd care to admit, bearing closely linked shames about her non-svelte body and Hispanic heritage. She despises the older women who passively toil alongside her, and they see her as a stuck-up brat. Mutual respect develops as Ana begins to appreciate their sacrifices and they catch a whiff of her independence. Anaʼs challenge is not just to assert her identity but to recognize it as a complex weave of self and culture.
MARILYN R. ATLAS