Cinema Signal:

Just the Weigh You Are:
How to Be Fit and Healthy, Whatever Your Size

. "Real Women Have Curves"

This movie can get an anti-weight crusader to put aside any negative connotations about the heavies among us. What an idea to entertain. And, entertaining it is. The second lesson made by this movie is that good storytelling is far more important than big budgets in its ability to charm, intrigue or affect.

Eighteen year old Ana, the younger daughter of the Garcia family, travels from East Los Angeles (a latino enclave for those unfamiliar with the local geography), clear across town by bus to Beverly Hills, a world apart and a sizable journey, to graduate from her high school. After the ceremonies, she says goodbye to Mr. Guzman (George Lopez), her teacher-counselor who pleads with her to apply to Columbia University, convinced that she has the intellectual payload for such a challenge. But she goes negative on the idea, resigned to the family attitudes and their need for her to help in her sister's dressmaking factory.

After this encounter, she has another -- with Jimmy (Brian Sites), an anglo boy of her class who has taken a shine to her despite her full figure (or, perhaps because of it). This is a development that adds to her abiding self-confidence, a characteristic she needs in order to maintain her individuality within her backward thinking family.

Her dominating mother Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros) is the villain of the piece, a woman not above play acting at being sick, or pregnant, in order to get some sympathy and respect from her rebel daughter, but her ploys are transparent. Her putdowns are more hurtful, however, and her never ending tirade about Ana's weight and the impossibility of her doing anything that doesn't help the family are downers for the teenager trying to figure out her way. During one of her later overeating/overweight lecture, Ana asks her how she can say such things when she herself is overweight. "Oh, but I'm married", is the response. We recognize this overbearing, self-righteous woman.

When Ana's persistent teacher pays a visit to the family in order to convince them to help Ana realize her potentials and to promise his full support, Mom becomes the obstacle, seeing far more importance in Ana's contributions.

While working at the factory and learning to appreciate the awesome job her sister has been doing in designing dresses and in running a struggling company, Ana consummates her relationship with Jimmy in an act that adds to her self growth. On one hot day, she convinces the factory fat ladies to get comfortable and expose their physical attributes. It's a sequence shamelessly emulating "The Full Monty", intended as a moment of admiration for the full figure. Finally, during this progession, Ana realizes what she must do and completes her application to Columbia. The only one who is joyous about it is Mr. Guzman.

Based on co-screenwriter Josefina Lopez' play, there is no sense of confinement or inadequacy in the movie version. The essential story line is strongly drawn, with a brave lead character like Ana, a teen struggling with issues of maturity and self realization amidst family repression. And, thanks to a downright honest and unexaggerated performance by America Ferrera, this is a package that engages you in a slice of life story that will have you thinking about it long after you leave the theater. You will have had an experience with complex characters and real world conflicts on a human, recognizable scale. It rings true enough for anyone to feel a part of, no matter your ethnic background, heritage, or attitude toward the overweight.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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America Ferrera, designed to fit

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