In East Los Angeles, Ana (America Ferrera), a plump Mexican-American teenager, chafes under the constraints of her mother, Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros), and sister, Estela (Ingrid Oliu). She wants to accept a scholarship to Columbia University, but she's desperately needed in her sister's garment sweatshop. As if having her intellect being ignored by her family isn't bad enough, she must also suffer her mother's constant nagging about her weight. Small wonder Ana has major self-image issues.

With Real Women Have Curves, director Patricia Cardoso has fashioned an undoubtedly sincere, heartwarming film from a somewhat impoverished screenplay, written by George LaVoo and Josefina Lopez, whose play provided the original source material. The characters are highly likeable but--without making any cheap jokes--there simply isn't enough fleshing out of the material. The story is predictable in the extreme--earnest to a fault and not leavened with enough true human eccentricity or humor. Much of the action takes place in Estela's workroom and we yearn to see more of the lives of her other perspiring, affable workers, besides Ana and Carmen. What we get is a big set-piece, in which all the women, in protest of the lack of air conditioning, strip off and display a range of plus-sized figures. Ironically, the display of flesh here is more shocking than the usual cinematic t&a fests, simply because the media so rarely celebrates anything less than a feminine size six. However, there's no denying that this sequence threatens to turn the film into nothing less than My Big Fat Mexican Sweatshop.

Ferrera is a chunky charmer of a gordita, nonetheless, and manages to inject some sneaky comic relief into the proceedings by virtue of the exasperated looks she shoots at her clueless family. The cherishable Ontiveros, so lovely in Chuck & Buck, is too strapped by her tiresome dimwit of a mom (who believes her menopausal state is a late pregnancy). Brian Sites performs gallantly as one of those gringo boys who really don't mind our heroine's avoirdupois.

-David Noh