Eighteen-year-old Ana Garcia (America Ferrera) graduates from high school and goes to work at her sister’s factory (read: sweatshop), where she irons $18 dresses that Bloomingdales is going to sell to rich white women for $600. Equally inflated is her mother Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros), whose flair for the dramatic provokes all sorts of family tensions. Ana gets a free ride from Columbia University but Carmen would rather have her daughter ironing than getting an education. Real Women Have Curves wears its empowerment on its sleeve but even its worst harangues are easy to swallow thanks to heart-breaking performances by Ferrera and Ontiveros. They go at it like dogs, negotiating everything from virginity and C-section scars to cross-stitching and hysterical pregnancies. Most fascinating here is the film’s brutal frankness—Carmen hopes to make Ana work for her sister not because it will keep the family together but because she can shove her daughter’s face in the kind of work that made her a slave her entire life. Ana challenges her mother’s wrath through various acts of silent retaliation. Patricia Cardoso’s compositions are colorful yet dank but it’s the film’s delicate and open-ended finale that lingers in the mind. This is a film alive with the possibility that working class Latinos can persevere their second-class citizenship through confidence and self-motivation.
Despite the occasional edge halo, Real Women Have Curves gets the red carpet treatment on this incredibly handsome-looking transfer, which preserves the film's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Blacks are rock solid and colors are vibrant and every bit as passionate as the film's hot-blooded Latinas. The Dolby Digital 5.1 is most notable for the lovely Heitor Pereira score. Dialogue is crystal clear but it's Pereira's ethnic score that's truly expansive.
The commentary track by America Ferrera and Lupe Ontiveros included on this DVD edition of Real Women Have Curves may be one of the most consistently fascinating tracks ever produced and certainly rivals film scholar Tom Weaver's commentary for Universal's It Came From Outer Space. Ferrera, who made her feature film debut in Real Women Have Curves, reveals herself to be one of the most insightful and passionate voices of her generation. Lupe Ontiveros discusses the evolution the material made from stage to screen (she starred in the original play some 18 years ago) and discusses the difficult journey she's made from playing maids to landing crucial and award-winning roles in such films as Chuck & Buck and Storytelling. Ontiveros and the eager Ferrera never play the victims though. They acknowledge the difficulties they have faced as actresses of color but they celebrate their defiance of the Hollywood studio system that seeks to discourage Latinos who don't look like Jennifer Lopez. Equally insightful is the commentary track by director Patricia Caroso, screenwriter Josefina Lopez and screenwriter/producer George Lavoo. Ontiveros and Lopez separately acknowledge the weaknesses of the original play and how it has evolved into something much more mature and rich and detail. (Second and third viewings will reveal lovely and subtle nuances in the film: notice that Ferrara cleans windows not with Bounty but with newspaper.) Josefina Lopez had the opportunity to adapt the film for the screen before but chose not to because she would have rather had the material remain unfilmed than see white actresses playing the roles. This is the kind of strength and defiance that empowers her film and both commentary tracks. Also included here are two mini-featurettes, one in English and one in Spanish.
Real Women Have Curves is a sweet and powerful rebuke of the epidemic of discouragement that plagues so many cultures of color. Certainly not the best film ever made but it's definitely something for the Latin community to be proud of.