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.