DVD Review
Real Women Have Curves
Real Women... poster
By Lee Tistaert     Published April 26, 2003
US Release: October 18, 2002

Directed by: Patricia Cardoso
Starring: America Ferrera , Michelle Moretti , Lupe Ontiveros , Ingrid Oliu

Running Time: 90 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $5,845,000
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The film is more than a familiar story; it is a familiar story told correctly
Oh man did this movie work on me. I?m usually not one who has to walk out of a film feeling good or happy, as I sometimes fight against some of those no-brainers with such an objective. But Real Women Have Curves nails it right on.

The film is more than a familiar story; it is a familiar story told correctly. And the difference between the two categories lies a significant gap, as this version allows the tale to feel real rather than trying to feel real. There are movies in the genre that have one-dimensional fables to tell the audience, and in the end the hero comes out swinging regardless of how much pain and suffering they were put through by those who rebelled against their theories.
Real Women Have Curves works because we see the society through our main protagonist?s eyes, and via such a technique we sense her emotions and the feelings brought about by the various issues that arise; and they?re all universal effects. I once took a film class where the instructor briefly elaborated on how to place the character and the viewer on the same page instantaneously. In the writing process, the screenwriter needs to come up with a tactic where the natural behavior or the common reaction is within the hero of which we?re rooting for, and the sympathy comes with the soul who opposes.

One such example given involved an average teenager in a class being asked by the teacher to come up in front of everyone else. Once front and center, the teacher drops a book hard on the floor and screams to pick it up. The natural reaction would be for the teenager (and class) to halt in utter silence, in awe of the expectation. Once the teacher repeats the command, the teenager, as well as the classmates, most likely have the same running thoughts: "What a dick!" In these few moments the audience already admires our hero and has identified the antagonist; for a few brief moments we were that teenager getting embarrassed by the villain figure, as the teenager was forced to inappropriately dismiss his/her dignity in front of his/her peers.

While Real Women Have Curves doesn?t have as direct of a scenario relating to that example, the opening nevertheless carries a relevant tactic in garnering sympathy; and starting from the introduction I was already caring for our hero. The film tells a story that is rarely ever expressed; the reason why could partially point toward the fact that if one was produced, the art-house department would probably get their hands on it being that it?s not entirely commercial. But even so, what?s the real harm in that?

A story as this is smarter than many of the flicks that thrive to be this in comparison, and takes more intelligence from the start in terms of screenwriting. I?d say the majority of the wannabes use common formulas to attract the compassion from the viewer; but what?s the payoff worth when you can simply insert realistic ideas that can actually unfold in a reality scenario? Quite possibly the biggest triumph is when the viewer can relate to the experience that is being shared on-screen. And even in a case like Real Women? where it?s based in a society where not every patron will be able to associate with its principles, the real objective is to make the payoff gel regardless of cultural differences; Real Women? does the job.

Ana (America Ferrera) is a just-graduated high school senior about to embark on the road ahead, but the road ahead has its obstacles and boundaries. She has the opportunity to apply to a worthy college to get an education she wouldn?t normally get working in a local sweatshop of which her mother, Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros), and friends operate. But her mother thinks twice about the idea of Ana not only leaving the family, but missing the opportunity to have a job and to work hard for her money. Carmen believes in the idea of family and always sticking together, and the thought of her daughter going away scares her, for it will alter the routine procedures accustomed to their tradition.

If you?re thinking, "Now that?s some good foundation paving way for some sappy material," then you probably are familiarized to the usual clich? shtick that these films generally fall into. Real Women Have Curves doesn?t pull such an obvious and weak execution. It?s intelligent, and because it knows its story and its characters and pays attention to the details most films of this genre don?t, the film is a relief. The script is relatively deep in its emotions and much if not all of this material rings true to reality. The reward not only comes from being handed a story that isn?t just typical run-of-the-mill fare in nature, but one that acknowledges the viewer?s I.Q. from the very beginning.

The characters are real and we can clearly take note of that; walking down the street in neighborhoods such as these, it is very easy to imagine its residents talking and acting like this, worrying about the issues that are being coped with. These people are not perfect and don?t have life always going in their favor; rather than delivering this idea in cornball fashion where the characters literally explain the themes, the audience instead observes these notions and that?s where the intelligence bar is set accordingly. There is one slight exception nearing the end where the topic at discussion is blown to a cheesy extent, and though I know it likely will produce giggles and fun reactions from some folks, to me it was losing its impact.

For a film with as formulaic of a set-up as it has, I was really impressed with some of the turn of events that shaped up. With a few incidents I was fearfully predicting the result of the scene, only to be fooled that yes, in reality what I had imagined probably wouldn?t take place. But in the book of film rules there?s usually a set of guidelines that may very well fall into gear. And only in a film can such a universe of expectations exist.

Real Women Have Curves is as engaging as it is empathetic. And though the end result will not be a surprise to most, it?s really not about that factor of the game and that?s where the accomplishment stands. There is so much right with the movie between the loyal nature of the script and the sometimes spot-on acting that we don?t care if we know what?s going to eventually occur; what is happening currently is what matters, and what comes further down the road we?ll deal with later.

The film also has a friendly taste for humor and though I only laughed a few times, the energy I had with each joke or gag was pretty respectable. Real Women? is a good example of solid filmmaking that takes advantage of a formula that is overused yet well used here. We?ve seen this film many times before, but not often quite like this.

DVD Features:
- Audio Commentary w/ America Ferrera & Lupe Ontiveros
- Audio Commentary w/ Patricia Cardoso, Josefina Lopez & George Lavoo
- Featurette #1 (English)
- Featurette #2 (Spanish)
- Cast & Crew Bios
Lee's Grade: B
Ranked #25 of 143 between Confessions... (#24) and Tadpole (#26) for 2002 movies.
Lee's Overall Grading: 2973 graded movies
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