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Real Women Have Curves
Patricia Cardoso

Graham Barnfield

As the title suggests, body size and self-image dominate this film about the difficulties facing Ana (America Ferrera), a bright student pushed into working in her sister’s dress factory rather than attending Columbia University.

And to many observers, this movie smacks of ‘issue of the week’ television, a staple filling channels like Hallmark when reruns from the Law & Order franchise are due a rest. Ironically then, HBO has chosen the movie to initiate its theatrical feature distribution operation. The provider of Oz, The Sopranos and Six Feet Under pushes its product with the line ‘it’s not TV, it’s HBO’, but the opening salvo in its big-screen effects has been criticised as more suited to the box than the multiplex.

Real Women Have Curves is academic-turned-director Patricia Cardoso’s debut feature film. It won last year's audience and Special Jury Prize awards at the Sundance Film Festival. The theme of thwarted ambition is everywhere, but this was largely ignored in recent reviews.

Instead commentators zoomed in on the film’s inescapable hectoring about body image. (One point in Real Women’s favour is that the male protagonists are spared the indignity of carrying the can for their wives’ and daughters’ anxieties; at other times the orientation towards personal politics makes the narrative entirely predictable.) Critics are also divided as to whether the treatment of ‘size’ in the movie is preachy or sensitively handled – it lacks the depth of HBO’s exploration of ‘the weight’ in a recent Sopranos storyline involving Ginny Sacrimoni (‘When she goes to the woods, the bears hide their food’, according to Paulie Walnuts.)

In some senses the debate over representation, body image and health has become bogus: the moment society’s preoccupation with love handles and self-esteem became mainstream – recall Mr. Blair’s ‘skinny models summit’ a few years back – it became unhelpful to discuss the issue in terms of ‘effects theory’ or the ‘social construction of health’.

Like it or not though, these themes are here to stay: the question for this movie is whether or not it handled them in either an aesthetically pleasing or convincing way (or both). The answer to this is to be found in the sheer vivacity and excellence of Ferrara who, like Eminem in 8 Mile, makes a good fist of coming from a non-acting background to tackle that conventional scenario of making your own way despite economic adversity and generational conflict.

None of these points are particularly subtle – the piece is based on the autobiographical play by Josefina Lopez, who also co-wrote the screenplay – but in Ferrara’s case, a star is born. See Real Women Have Curves for her performance alone.

Click here for a profile of Patricia Cardoso

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