Real movies have characters, but not the fat-empowerment teen drama "Real Women Have Curves" a big crowd-pleaser at Sundance but a fiasco of dopey characters and clumsy script.
By JOSHUA TANZER
(Originally reviewed at the 2002 New Directors New Films festival.)
"Real Women Have Curves" impressed nearly everybody at Sundance, winning the audience award and raves from festivalgoers except for a couple of real women whose opinions I trust and trust even more after seeing it myself. The film scores PC points for glorifying women of all shapes and sizes but it is a poorly written mess.
We first see our heroine, the curvaceous Mexican-American teenager Ana (America Ferrera), on her last day of school as her classmates take turns telling the teacher what prestigious universities they'll be attending in the fall. Um, I think I'm going to travel around Europe, says Ana for the sake of having something to say.
|REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES|
|Directed by: Patricia Cardoso.|
Written by: Josefina Lopez, George LaVoo.
Cast: America Ferrera, Lupe Ontiveros, Ingrid Oliu, George Lopez, Brian Sites, Soledad St. Hilaire, Lourdes Perez, Jorge Cervera Jr., Felipe de Alba, Jose Gerardo Zamora Jr., Edgar Lujan, Lina Acosta..
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She triumphantly quits her fast-food job after school and goes home to the clutches of her vicious mother (Lupe Ontiveros) who insists that she's going to work the next morning at "Estela's Fashion Design," her sister's small garment factory. Thus begins the rest of Ana's life.
It is in the exploitative factory and the oppressive home that Ana learns to stand up for herself as a woman, a worker and a pudgy person. "Don't get your hopes up," her sister tells her as she admires a dress bound for Bloomingdale's. "You'll never get into that one. It's a size seven." But her sense of rebellion against the tyrrany of small dress sizes leads to an outrageously empowering worker uprising, of sorts, which must be the scene that had the Sundance crowds buzzing.
There are a few nicely handled moments in "Real Women Have Curves," like a conciliatory conversation between the mother and daughter over a guilt-inducing piece of flan. But much of the dialogue is trite, predictable and unreal with an effect somewhere between agitprop and the old "After School Special."
| ||Mr. Guzman mentions that he's "friendly with the dean of admissions at Columbia University" and might be able to get her in there several months after the deadline if she'll just fill out the forms. This is the George W. Bush moral universe.|
But worse than this, writers Josefina Lopez and George LaVoo have no idea what their characters are made of inside, and this is nowhere more obvious than in Ana's college application story. After allegedly discussing college applications all year with her kindly teacher Mr. Guzman (George Lopez), she hasn't lifted a finger to fill one out, which is strange enough. But even more ridiculous, Mr. Guzman mentions that he's "friendly with the dean of admissions at Columbia University" and might be able to get her in there several months after the deadline if she'll just fill out the forms. This is the George W. Bush moral universe.
When she brings in her application, she hasn't completed the personal essay ("I didn't think it was important," explains this allegedly intelligent girl after a year of coaching), so she's sent back home to write it. If nowhere else, this is the device that should show what Ana is made of her soul-searching, her history, her spirit, her individuality should all go into this all-important personal statement. So do we finally get a glimpse into her true character? No, we merely see her sitting in the backyard one day with a notebook, and then she dutifully hands it in to the teacher. No sweat. What it actually says, and says about her, is inconsequential. "We didn't think it was important," we can imagine the filmmakers saying.
I would hate to give away the all-too-predictable outcome of this dopey effort, but when it comes, it is of course accompanied by a full scholarship. In the film's parallel reality, you can be a complete screwup but somebody will use connections to save you at the last minute. It's the fat envelope ex machina.
I even have misgivings about the film's basic message that fat is beautiful, and the filmmakers virtually admit that they do too. The fat-empowerment scene in the factory is the film's centerpiece and leaves the most lasting impression on the audience. But it comes shortly after what may be the film's real key moment. Angrily chasing Ana out of the factory, her mother makes it half a block before collapsing right on the street because she's so out of shape. Americans, noticeably the world's most obese people and from a shockingly early age, should be proud of their inner persons, sure, but they need to be a lot healthier than they are. And "Real Women Have Curves" fails miserably to show that its heroines are healthy either outside or inside.
|MARCH 21, 2002|
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