“Real Women Have Curves” is an Ethnic Movie. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have now officially coined a new genre. The Ethnic Movie, like all other genres, has its own conventions that it follows faithfully, with minor detours by only the most “daring” filmmakers. (Yes, I am being sarcastic.) Choose an ethnicity, any ethnicity. It was Greek in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, Indian in “American Desi” and “Bend It Like Beckham”, and it’s Mexican in “Curves”. (Or Latino or Hispanic for the politically correct among you.)
The conventions of an Ethnic Movie is simple: a family that looks dysfunctional at first, but proves to be “just like any other family”; traditional parents who our lead rebels against; the lead falls in love with someone outside the ethnicity, thus causing problems; and our lead is forced to make a life-changing decision that goes against the “rules” of the ethnicity, but which she inevitable chooses by movie’s end. For “Curves”, simply insert these changes: a working class immigrant Mexican family in East Los Angeles; a mother who believes her daughter should only be concern with losing weight and getting married; the daughter falling in love with a Caucasian boy from a wealthy family; and the daughter being forced to choose between a free scholarship to Columbia University in New York or staying home with her family.
Don’t get me wrong. “Real Women Have Curves”, despite being wholly predictable and not much more than a point-by-point adaptation of every other Ethnic Movie out there, is still quite entertaining. It has a strong cast, led by newcomer America Ferrera, who plays Ana, the daughter. Ana has just graduated from High School and her teacher, played by comedian George Lopez in a serious role, has convinced her to apply for the Columbia scholarship (which she wins). But Ana’s biggest obstacle is her mother Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros), a traditional woman who has been working since she was 13 and feels strongly that Ana is spoiled because she dares to want something more than just work in her sister’s clothing factory.
The bulk of the movie’s conflict is really a mano-a-mano battle between mother and daughter, with everyone else caught in the middle. As with all Ethnic Movie, there is a somewhat understanding parent (in this case, the father) who tempers the uncooperative parent. There’s also a very helpful and accepting relative (in this case, the grandfather) who acts as an accomplice to our heroine. It bears repeating that despite all of its declarations of being a Mexican movie and thus by that virtue alone, different, “Curves” is nothing of the sort. It’s formulaic to the core.
Again, just because “Curves” is nothing new doesn’t mean it isn’t worth watching. America Ferrera is easy to sympathize with, and we all have a parent like Carmen, who is prone to uncontrollable melodrama to get her way. The film treats Carmen as more than just an obstacle, but really the movie’s villain. It’s almost shameful how badly Carmen treats Ana, tearing her down at every turn. The screenplay would have us believe that Carmen is doing this for Ana’s own good, but I have to wonder if calling your daughter “butterball” and “fat” every other sentence is anything but emotional cruelty.
“Real Women Have Curves” is an Ethnic Movie, and follows all the conventions of the genre faithfully. The direction by Patricia Cardoso is nothing special, and the screenplay by George LaVoo and Josefina Lopez, based on Lopez’s play, could use some little more originality. Beyond those points, “Curves” is a decent enough movie.
Patricia Cardoso (director) / Josefina Lopez, George LaVoo (screenplay)
CAST: America Ferrera …. Ana Garcia
Lupe Ontiveros …. Carmen Garcia
Ingrid Oliu …. Estela Garcia
George Lopez …. Mr. Guzman
Brian Sites …. Jimmy