(movie review written 10-02)
There are few movies that don't work with formulas most viewers haven't seen before in various other films. However, some directors can offer a new angle or a fresh perspective that make their film stand out. "Real Women Have Curves", director Patricia Cardoso's film, is familiar but well-acted and lively, with characters and relationships that are interesting and nicely realized.
The film stars newcomer America Ferrera as Ana, a young woman who has gotten herself into Beverly Hills High due to her intelligence and good grades. Now, school is almost over and the Summer could see Ana going one of two ways: seeking a scholarship to Columbia University in New York City under the guidance of her teacher (George Lopez of ABC's "George Lopez Show") or going to work at her older sister's dress factory, which makes beautiful dresses that sell for $18 and go at the stores for $600.
Ana's fierce mother Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros) is the one thing standing in the way of her education. Not wanting to break up the family, Carmen not only taunts her daughter's desire to do more with her life, but attempts to embarass her by making fun of her appearance. Ontiveros, through her performance, gives a few additional layers to the character, making us think that maybe she really loves her daughters and wants the best for them. It's the one noticable fault of the movie; while Ontiveros does her best to not make the character entirely evil, the movie never quite explains her reasoning well enough.
The movie's performances are uniformly excellent. America Ferrara (who won an award for her performance at Sundance this year) offers a terrific, charming debut as Ana. Her performance clearly portrays all sides of the character and her confidence in herself and her figure is not only genuine, but moving. Ingrid Oliu is also excellent as the older daughter trying desperately to make her dress factory work enough to meet the orders. Technically, the $3m picture also looks quite nice. Jim Denault's cinematography not only richly captures the neighborhoods, but offers interesting compositions and enough movement to keep all the dialogue-driven scenes from becoming too static.
While these are enjoyable characters presented in the midst of a well-written story, director Cardoso and editor Sloane Klevin keep the story moving. Clocking in at around 85 minutes, there are no unnecessary subplots or slow stretches. Obviously, distributors HBO & Newmarket are looking for another "My Big Fat Greek Wedding". While this picture doesn't include a wedding, I do see it being a possibly major hit if the picture can get into more screens and the likely word-of-mouth about it starts up.
VIDEO: "Real Women Have Curves" is offered by HBO in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is actually a very lovely transfer that does justice to the film's lovely cinematography and production design. Sharpness and detail are first-rate, and the picture looks consistently crisp and clear, with good fine detail.
The picture remained free of any distracting print flaws, edge enhancement or compression artifacts. The film's bright, vivid color palette was beautifully presented, appearing accurate, well-saturated and problem-free. Black level remained fairly solid and flesh tones looked first-rate. A very good presentation. Two main subtitle options are available; English only when Spanish is spoken and Spanish only when English is spoken. There are also English, French and Spanish subtitles for the entire film.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is subtle, but very enjoyable. Ambience in the outdoor scenes is presented in a crisp, convincing manner by the front speakers, while music is clearly offered by the front speakers and lightly reinforced by the surrounds. There's nothing much in the way of low bass, nor does there need to be.
EXTRAS: The DVD includes two commentaries: one from actresses America Ferrera and Lupe Ontiveros, and the other from screenwriters George LaVoo and Josefina Lopez, as well as director Patricia Cardoso. The commentary from the two actresses does have some spaces of silence here and there, but when the two do chat, they have a great deal to offer. Both are very insightful in discussing both their characters and what it was like working on the film in general. The two are energetic and fun, really offering a good picture of the environment on the production and how the cast and crew worked together.
The second commentary is equally as informative and entertaining. The three communicate and share the same kind of genuine excitement about the final product and its success that the actresses possessed in their commentary. The three discuss the characters in great depth, and the screenwriters (especially Lopez) talk about the inspirations for the characters and story. The stories about how this tale was brought to the screen are very, very inspiring and enjoyable to listen to. Both commentaries are terrific and well-worth a listen.
Also: Also included are English and Spanish featurettes and bios.
Final Thoughts: "Real Women Have Curves" is an honest, intelligent drama with terrific characters, great dialogue and involving situations. It's paced well and the performances are superb. HBO's Special Edition DVD offers very good audio/video quality and solid supplements. Highly Recommended.
The Film *** 1/2